Saturday, March 31, 2012

Somatic Cell Count...Why you should care

Raw Milk is very hot...even though it is best served cold, unless you are making hot chocolate and then hot is OK.

What I really mean to say before I was distracted by my own self, raw milk is very popular . Folks are talking about it, arguing about it, protesting about it and sadly being arrested for selling it. Either the government is telling you you'll be dead 10 seconds after the vile stuff passes through your esophagus burning a path of destruction as it goes, OR the health food fanatics are telling you raw milk will grow back your amputated limb.

We believe it's health benefits are somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. We also believe the choice to drink raw milk should be an educated one, not an emotional one. Do your research, read the blogs, scan the studies, talk to your nurse practitioner, doctor, chiropractor, mail lady and then...

Check the Somatic Cell Count.

If you are buying raw milk directly from a farmer you should understand that the Somatic Cell Count is one method of assessing cow health, and healthy cows produce healthy milk. Just because it is legal in some states, like Illinois, to sell raw milk doesn't mean every dairy farmer SHOULD sell raw milk. I know it is the thin, wockety limb I crawl out on, but...some farms are not clean enough to be selling raw milk. There I said it. ,

So if you want to buy and consume raw milk you need to do a little work. Spend some time at the farm. How much manure are cows standing in ? How often is the barn cleaned? How clean is the lot where cows eat? How often (if ever) do you see them on pasture. The more grass time the better.

Look at the cows themselves. Some manure on lower legs is to be expected. Coating their bellies? Not good. Do they seem to like their farmer? Do they come when he calls? Do they approach him when he or she enters the pasture?  Do they wink at you? Cows that wink are happy.

What about the tank room ? The floor should be clean (unless you are visiting during milking time and traffic in the room is high), the hoses you use should smell good, not like old milk and the milk tank should show a temp of 42 degrees or less.

Then you need to ask the farmer about his Somatic Cell Count . Somatic cell count (SCC) measures the white blood cells or leukocytes and is an indicator of the quality of  the milk. The number of somatic cells increases in response to pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus,  a cause of mastitis or inflammation of the cows udder.

 Generally a lower somatic cell count indicates better animal health  and most state guidelines for Grade A dairies require that the SCC  shall be not more than one million (1,000,000) cells per milliliter. Some require less than 750,000.

Our herds last SCC was 160,000.

When we were a Grade A Dairy with the state of Illinois, our milk was tested regularly but when we told the state we only wanted to sell directly to the consumer, not through a middle man milk company, they told us Bye Bye. They said they no longer would even consider us as a dairy and took us off all their lists. They refused to survey us anymore.

Fine by us.

We began surveying ourselves, following all the rules even though not required to. And we have our milk regularly tested by an independent lab in Peoria.

We would like our SCC to  be lower and we will continue to strive for that, but 160,000 still makes us happy. We attribute the low results to cows being on pasture where they are "exposed" to fresh air and soft dirt. We also feel strongly that our herds 100% grass fed status has improved their health overall.  In addition we do a very very risky thing that few dairy farmers do anymore; we allow visitors to the farm.

There is this odd belief in the conventional dairy that to keep your animals healthy you have to greatly decrease their exposure to anything harmful, including humans. Visitors to these farms must wear booties and gloves and sometimes even jackets and masks. We, on the other hand think it better to built up our cows immune system (through organic feed and real earth for beds) thus giving them the ammo they need to fight off common bacteria.

Its the same reason we allowed our kids to play barefoot in the sandbox and eat cookies that have fallen on the floor. We don't cry about spilled milk but we sob over wasted cookies.

So, if indeed you have made that decision to drink raw milk ask your farmer about his Somatic Cell Count. It is not the ONLY way to ensure that you are drinking milk from healthy animals but it is a great place to start.


  1. Great article! But I have a question, when I had goats, I often thought of having the SCC done, but I hadn't and still don't have a clue how to do that. For us we would not be able to have the test done locally because we to remote. So is the milk froze and sent off? Sorry if that sounds like a lame question.

  2. Yes Linda, you can mail the milk as we have done that at times. Usually it is fresh not frozen but you must be able to keep it cold. We used the blue cold packs and styrofoam. Call the lab you plan to use and ask them how they want it shipped and packaged to be sure.

  3. In the process of learning to make cheese I have learned SCC also affects the quality and the process of making cheese. It is also true about the government and the "health nuts" but the reality is if bad bacteria are introduced to pastuerized milk you'll drink bad bacteria milk. If bad bacteria are introduced into raw milk...guess'll drink bad bacteria milk. We are very thankful you two are around.

  4. Thank you Doug and WE are equally glad for your business!

  5. Great post! And, great information. I can't believe the state took you off the "dairy" list just because you don't sell to the middle man any more. That's just silly!

  6. Raw milk is very hard to get where I live. Have you soaped with it? I bet it would be wonderful.


  7. I am learning more about farming (and farm products) from reading your pages, than I ever learned before.

    Keep it up Donna.

  8. Brenda, I too would describe the state of Illinois that same way. Just plain SILLY

    Michele, Yes I do make soap with it and will talk about it on my blog later today as part of Amys soap challenge!

    Cro, thanks so much and through you I have learned that America is NOT the only country in the world. Imagine that.

  9. As always, I do believe you are a fabulous farm teacher. Thank you for always approaching all sides of an issue so that we are well informed with the information you provide. I am learning so much from you...our house in the city is on the market and we are eager to get moved to our acreage. I know we'll have a multitude of learning disasters, but your lessons will hopefully keep the bad incidents down a bit. You are like the Oprah of Farming!!! Awareness and Education for all of us with humor!

    Thank you!!!


  10. Do you test for TB and brucellosis over there? I presume so?

  11. You get your milk test in peoria il? thats where I'm from and I'm having a really hard time finding anywhere to get raw milk. i've been reading more and more about the disgusting things in the milk i purchase every day and want to switch. do you sell it?

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