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Dairy Focus: EU Rules Impact Midwest Dairy Farmers

J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist
Reasons for Culling Dairy Cows Reasons for Culling Dairy Cows
New European Union rules could impact U.S. dairy producers selling milk to processors who export dairy products.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

One of the toughest decisions dairy managers face is whether to keep and treat or cull a cow.

Dairy producers choose to market dairy cattle for a number of reasons, including reproduction, poor milk quality, low milk production and lameness.

For many Midwest processors, the lowering of somatic cell count (SCC) requirements is imminent and one of the top two reasons for culling cows. Those reasons are milk quality and udder-related problems. SCC is one indicator of milk quality.

Producers were made aware this spring the European Union has ruled that every dairy farm selling milk to processors who export dairy products to EU countries must have an average three-month rolling SCC geometric mean below EU requirements beginning Oct 1, 2010.

The good news is that the deadline has been extended to Jan. 1, 2011. However, that means if your dairy farm is affected, you need to gear up now.

The EU makes the SCC calculation by taking the cube root of the product of three monthly somatic cell counts, whereas in the U.S., the arithmetic mean calculation normally is used. The geometric mean calculation has the advantage of being a lower number and reduces the influence of the occasional high SCC spike.

Still undecided is how the monthly SCC will be determined. Fewer bulk tank SCC tests are done in the EU than in the Upper Midwest. In the EU, the tests are done bimonthly, while in the U.S., SCC tests are run on every milk pickup. Therefore, using the single "official" SCC test or some random selection of a single bulk tank SCC test done during any month would be comparable to what is done in the EU.

The National Milk Producers Federation has been in constant discussion with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the EU’s 400,000 cells-per-milliliter requirements. Currently, we have a 750,000 SCC limit.

This is not a food safety issue. The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world. It is about suitability of the intended purpose. Lower SCC milk produces higher cheese yields, and having a lower somatic cell standard is an image booster within the international trading community.

If the U.S. becomes a serious player in the international trade arena, that will put additional pressure on lowering the SCC standard so we can compete abroad.

Adding to the fog is the confusion over compliance, including an additional standard plate count (SPC) test, because EU regulations require two monthly SPC tests, whereas the U.S. requires one.

So attaining the potential new standards is not necessarily difficult, but certain climates in the U.S. will make it more difficult for some.

Look at the environment and the cow; she may not need to be culled. But if she does, this is certainly a good time to add weight to her and take advantage of a good market.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701), 231-5391,
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