Raw milk testing: A crucial step to improve herd health and tackle antimicrobial resistance

Improved animal health and disease management are crucial steps to tackle antimicrobial resistance and sustainability in dairy farming. FOSS solutions offer valuable data for dairy farmers to do this as a part of daily routines.


The demand for dairy products keeps on growing in the coming years. Dairy farmers are challenged to meet the increasing demand for dairy products, while producing these in a more sustainable way. Sustainable practices in dairy farming include a wide range of practices such as optimising feeding practices, improving soil health, improving disease management, and reducing methane emissions. Ensuring overall animal health and productivity are considered as two of the most important prerequisites for a sustainable and profitable farm. 

Antimicrobial resistance – What is it and why is important
Healthier cows produce more milk from less feed and hence have a lower carbon footprint per kg milk. Healthier cows also live longer, have less health and breeding issues, and require less (or no) treatment that usually is antibiotics. And especially the latter is important. While antimicrobial agents (including antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics) are essential for treating sick animals, the widespread use over the last decades, combined with misuse and overuse of these agents in some cases, have led to full or partial resistance in some bacteria to various antimicrobial agents. This phenomenon, called antimicrobial resistance (AMR), means that these resistant microorganisms no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. In 2019, 5 million human deaths were associated with bacterial antimicrobial resistance worldwide, including 1.3 million human deaths directly attributable to bacterial AMR (The Lancet


Because of the immense threat of AMR, the WHO has declared it as being one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. AMR is also linked and intertwined with several of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as SDG number 9 (focus on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation) and SGD 12 (responsible consumption and production). The new EU Animal Health Law (that came into effect in April 2021), emphasises the urgency and responsibility of the livestock sector around AMR. The regulation therefore strongly focuses on the One Health approach, better early detection, and control of animal diseases. 

Important role for raw milk analysis
Dairy farmers are encouraged to ensure good animal health and welfare to minimise the need for antimicrobial use, hence reducing the risk of AMR spreading. Approximately 70% of all antibiotics on dairy farms are used for treating udder infections. 
So, finding a way to better detect and control mastitis has a huge economic pay-off and directly impacts sustainability, because less milk is wasted, the cow becomes more productive (reducing carbon footprint per kg milk) and less antibiotic treatments are needed (contributing to the prevention of AMR bacteria). 


This is where the implementation of an effective herd health management programme, combined with raw milk testing, comes in. 
Raw milk analysis is a common practice in many countries. On a global level, the estimated number of cows in countries with a partially or fully developed milk testing chain amounts to approximately 63 million. With more than one million farms, this translates into 632 million individual cow milk samples and 96 million payment samples available per year. 

All of these samples go to milk testing laboratories where they are tested for numerous parameters daily. An important and well-known parameter is the Somatic Cell Count (SCC). SCC was introduced in the 1970s and provides dairy farmers with valuable insights to optimise herd health (mastitis) and productivity. Continuous milk testing and recording of data has paved the way for significant improvements of cow performance and created the necessary infrastructure and the accumulated knowledge. 


Since the introduction of SCC, the list of parameters for dairy herd improvement has developed heavily. Several parameters can be determined at the same time in milk-testing laboratories. This makes it cost-efficient as no extra efforts are needed, because the infrastructure of raw milk sampling is already there, linking back to UNs SDG number 9 (focus on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation). 

DSCC screening for tackling AMR
One of the most exciting new milk parameters that is available today to help with a more successful udder control programme is the Differential Somatic Cell Count (DSCC). This parameter allows dairy farmers to act quicker to keep cow health high and antibiotic use to a limit, especially in the case of mastitis. DSCC is the combined proportion of the white blood cells (immune cells), polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) and lymphocytes. The combined proportion of PMN and lymphocytes is calculated and presented as a percentage (%) of the total SCC. Both parameters (SCC and DSCC) can be determined at the same time in milk-testing laboratories.


DSCC adds more information about the udder health status by telling us precisely what types of immune cells are predominant in the milk, thus providing more detailed information that allows farmers to fine tune and optimise mastitis management. In practice, dairy farmers can group cows according to their DSCC status and adjust protocols and husbandry practices (such as cubicle cleaning and milking protocols). The DSCC parameter is already being implemented successfully as a standard DHI screening method in several European and Asian countries.

Dairy farming is a vital sector to feed the growing world population in a sustainable way. Dairy cows can transform forages and by-products (not suitable for human consumption) into high quality milk, cheese, and dairy products. The dairy sector increasingly improves and takes actions regarding soil health, carbon sequestering, methane reduction, antibiotic reduction and increase of animal health and welfare. All these efforts contribute to food security, the prevention of AMR spreading and the achievement of sustainable development. 


Treatment and control of mastitis is the most common use of antibiotics in dairy cows. The availability of DSCC as a new parameter in milk testing programmes will help the dairy sector to fine tune and optimise mastitis management and husbandry practices. By supporting the further adoption and implementation of DSCC as a standard measurement in every raw milk sample taken around the world, FOSS showcases the company's active contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the improvement of farm husbandry practices and the reduction of antibiotics and associated emergence and spread of AMR.



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