Article In Press: Risk Factors of Somatic Cell Count

Associations of risk factors with somatic cell count in bulk tank milk on organic and conventional dairy farms in the United States

K.M. Cicconi-Hogan, M. Gamroth, R. Richert, P.L. Ruegg, K.E. Stiglbauer, Y.H. Schukken
Journal of Dairy Science, Available online

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In the past decade, the demand for organic agricultural products has increased rapidly in the United States and worldwide. Milk quality research is of major interest to both consumers and dairy farmers alike. However, scientific data on milk quality, herd management methods, and animal welfare on organic farms in the United States has been lacking before the research from this study. The objective of this study was to evaluate the association of bulk tank milk somatic cell count (SCC) with management characteristics on organic and conventional dairy farms in New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Data from similarly sized organic farms (n = 192), conventional nongrazing farms (n = 64), and conventional grazing farms (n = 36) were collected at a single farm visit. Of the 292 farms visited, 290 bulk tank milk samples were collected. Overall, no difference in SCC was observed between the conventional and organic grazing systems. Two models were created to assess the effects of various management and herd characteristics on the logarithmic transformation of the SCC (LSCC), one using data from all herds and one using data from organic herds only. From the total herd model, more grain fed per cow per day was negatively associated with LSCC, whereas a positive bulk tank culture for Staphylococcus aureus and years that a farmer reported being in the dairy business were both positively associated with LSCC. In the organic herd model, a seasonal effect indicated that LSCC tended to increase in the summer and decrease in the winter. Grain fed per cow per day, the use of anionic salts in transition-cow diets, the use of gloves during milking, and regular use of a quarantine unit at milking were all negatively associated with LSCC. Similar to the total herd model, a Staph. aureus- positive bulk tank culture was positively associated with LSCC in the organic model. Standard plate count was also positively associated with LSCC in the organic model. Several variables that were associated with management using external resources were combined to create an external input score. In the total herd model, use of more external resources was negatively associated with LSCC. Conventional herds in the study tended to use more outside management resources than organic herds.