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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Milk Components and Somatic Cell Measurements for Each Cow at Each Milking

Dairy Pipeline: January 2009

Bennet Cassell, Genetics and Management
(540) 231-4762,
Christina Petersson-Wolfe, Milk Quality & Milking Management
(540) 231-4767,

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In the Fall of 2008, the milking parlor at Virginia Tech was equipped with “AfiLab” equipment for in-line monitoring of fat, protein, somatic cell count and other milk component parameters as part of a cooperative research effort between Dairy Science at VT and the AfiKim company. These units were installed, one in each milking stall, and record data for each cow at each milking. Initial studies will calibrate the devices for Holstein cows, followed by a study to examine the validity for Jersey and crossbred cows in the herd. This will be the first application of AfiLab equipment on breeds other than Holstein. Research to follow will evaluate the relationship of milk components with a variety of herd management decisions. For instance, can we use changes in fat, protein, or other milk components as early warnings of metabolic diseases such as ketosis? Can we use the results to fine tune rations for more efficient production or healthier cows? The devices can be calibrated to evaluate milk lactose and MUN in addition milk composition traits, which allows for more potential applications. Equipment of this kind already exists in research herds in some other countries, but this is only the second installation of AfiLab equipment in the United States. As an example of work being done, New Zealand research in the December 2008 issue of Journal of Dairy Science reported a correlation of 0.8 (high correlation) between somatic cell data from in-line SCC readings and laboratory results from the same milking when counts exceeded 200,000 cells/mL. The same study reported that in-line SCC data and electrical conductivity were more effective when used together to identify quarters affected by clinical mastitis than either measure separately. There are many potential applications of in-line milk analysis for improved herd health and nutritional management, and perhaps reproductive performance as well. AfiLab equipment places the Department of Dairy Science in a unique position for leadership in this rapidly growing field of scientific study. We are grateful to the AfiKim group for their support and cooperation.

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