It’s important for dairy farmers to keep their cows happy, which means it’s important to stop mastitis from occurring.  

Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland or, in the case of a cow, udder. Lactating females, human or animal, can experience mastitis from a blocked milk duct. For dairy cows, mastitis is usually caused by udder infections resulting from bacteria. Another way mastitis forms is through calves suckling on udders. Calves may try to suckle dry udders, too, not just those full of milk. Any bacteria residing in a calf’s mouth can be transferred to the udder and create mastitis. To reduce infections, equipment and cow udders are kept clean throughout the milking process, dry bedding is routinely cleaned and udders are carefully examined.  

Dairy farmers watch for the signs of mastitis, such as the udders swelling, turning red or becoming hard. The milk produced with mastitis will look watery or begin to produce a clot-like substance. If necessary, cows are treated with antibiotics to fight the infection. While the mastitis is fought off or the antibiotics are in her system, the cow’s milk is discarded so it is not tested with the gallons sent to the processing plant.   

The process of transporting milk ensures that no milk containing antibiotics or illness leaves the dairy farm. When milk is transported from the dairy, the milk is tested for safety. Testing detects any antibiotics that may be in milk. If this is found, all the milk is dumped and is not sent on for processing. Another part of the testing done counts the white blood cells present in milk. The term is Somatic Cell Count. A healthy dairy cow will produce white blood cells in order to easily fight off sickness at a moment’s notice. The presence of white blood cells is not bad, nor does it mean your milk contains anything infected.    

But the testing ensures milk’s safety and high quality. It’s a high cell count that is a sign of illness and may mean the cow has an infection like mastitis. In that case, her milk is thrown out, the cow is examined and then she is treated. It may also be another sign of antibiotic presence, where the milk is also thrown out until the antibodies leave the treated cow’s system.    

Additionally, a low Somatic Cell Count is considered higher quality milk. The better quality the milk, the more a dairy will receive for its milk. Lower white blood cell counts are correlated with higher cheese yield and better shelf life for pasteurized milk. States regulate how high a Somatic Cell Count may be, but dairy farmers strive for a high-quality milk with a low Somatic Cell Count. 

Safe and continuous milk production is the goal. To achieve this, facilities are kept clean and cows are closely watched for signs of infection. Having happy, healthy cows provides better quality milk, allowing a financial safety for dairy farmers to continue doing what they love. When the cows are happy, everyone should be happy.    

Learn more about cow care here