The CellCheck Milking for Quality Best 500 Awards are one of the highlights of the farming year. They are an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the excellent udder health on over 500 dairy farms.
What these 500 farmers and discussion groups achieve each year may be just part of their normal farming routine, but for others it is an inspiration.
The CellCheck awards first started in 2014 and are awarded to the 500 suppliers with the lowest annual average somatic cell count (SCC). In its first year, all winners had an SCC of 103,000 cells/ml or less. Six years later, the winning range has reduced to 73,000 cells/ml.
Nationally we have seen the same positive trend in the quality of milk produced. In the last 10 years, there has been reduction in the national average bulk tank SCC of almost 100,000 cells/ml, to 176,000 cells/ml in 2019. This is a testament to the hard work of Irish dairy farmers, and collaboration within the industry.
When I talk to the winners each year, I am struck by how surprised many of them are to be considered a “winner”. They take great pride in producing top-quality milk and acknowledge that keeping mastitis well controlled makes life much easier.
So how do they do this? What these winners have in common is that they are brilliant at the basics and pay attention to detail. For them, practices such as milk recording, good post-milking teat disinfection, hygiene at milking, regular machine maintenance and early detection of mastitis and high SCC cows are non-negotiables.
Remember, there is nothing magical about how these farmers achieve the exceptional SCC levels – it’s about doing small things and doing them well.
Producing low Somatic Cell Count (SCC) milk is an on-oing challenge for Irish dairy farmers.
Over the past three years, as part of the CellCheck Milking for Quality Awards, Teagasc and AHI, supported by ICBF, have run a FBD-sponsored discussion group category, focusing on producing low-SCC milk and on reducing SCC levels among group members.
This year the group with the lowest average bulk milk SCC was the Ballygiblin Discussion Group based on either side of the Cork-Tipperary border. The group is chaired by John Geary and facilitated by John McCabe and Padraig McCormack of Teagasc.
This 12-strong group supply Dairygold Co-op and had an average bulk milk SCC of 125,000 cells/ml. Previous winners in the category were Midlands-based Pasture Apprentices and the Clare-based Bunratty Discussion Groups in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The group with the greatest reduction in bulk milk SCC in 2019/20 compared to the average of the previous two years (2017/18 and 2018/19) was the Kenmare Discussion Group.
Supplying Kerry, the 13-strong group is chaired by Pat Randles and facilitated by Teagasc adviser Kevin Stagg. The group reduced the average SCC of milk supplied in 2019/20 by 18,000 cells/ml to 155,000 cells/ml.
Judges: Finola McCoy, AHI, George Ramsbottom, Teagasc and Kevin Downing ICBF