Evaluation of test-day milk somatic cell count to predict intramammary infection in late lactation grazing dairy cows
The use of selective dry cow antimicrobial therapy requires precisely differentiating cows with an intramammary infection (IMI) from uninfected cows close to drying-off to enable treatment allocation. Milk somatic cell count (SCC) is an indicator of an inflammatory response in the mammary gland and is usually associated with IMI. However, SCC can also be influenced by cow-level variables such as milk yield, lactation number, and stage of lactation. In recent years, predictive algorithms have been developed to differentiate cows with IMI from cows without IMI based on SCC data. The objective of this observational study was to explore the association between SCC and subclinical IMI, taking cognizance of cow-level predictors on Irish seasonal spring calving, pasture-based systems. Additionally, the optimal test-day SCC cut-point (maximized sensitivity and specificity) for IMI diagnosis was determined. A total of 2,074 cows across 21 spring calving dairy herds with an average monthly milk weighted bulk tank SCC of ≤200,000 cells/mL were enrolled in the study. Quarter-level milk sampling was carried out on all cows in late lactation (interquartile range = 240–261 d in milk) for bacteriological culturing. Bacteriological results were used to define cows with IMI when ≥1 quarter sample resulted in bacterial growth. Cow-level test-day SCC records were provided by the herd owners. The ability of the average, maximum, and last test-day SCC to predict infection were compared using receiver operator curves. Predictive logistic regression models tested included parity (primiparous or multiparous), yield at last test-day, and a standardized count of high SCC test-days. In total, 18.7% of cows were classified as having an IMI, with first-parity cows having a higher proportion of IMI (29.3%) compared with multiparous cows (16.1%). Staphylococcus aureus accounted for the majority of these infections. The last test-day SCC was the best predictor of infection with the highest area under the curve. The inclusions of parity, yield at last test-day, and a standardized count of high SCC test-days as predictors did not significantly improve the ability of last test-day SCC to predict IMI. The cut-point for last test-day SCC that maximized sensitivity and specificity was 64,975 cells/mL. This study indicates that in Irish seasonal pasture-based dairy herds with low bulk tank SCC, the last test-day SCC (interquartile range days in milk = 221–240) is the best predictor of IMI in late lactation.
PublicationJournal of Dairy Science, 2023, 106 (7), pp. 4991-5001
Other Funding informationDairy Research Ireland (Dublin, Ireland)
Department or School
- Biological Sciences