The dairy industry in Ireland is expanding rapidly, with a focus on the production of high quality milk. Somatic cell counts (SCC) are an important indicator both of udder health and milk quality. Milk sold by Irish farmers for manufacture must comply with EU regulations. Irish SCC data is also subject to a monthly seasonal adjustment, for four months from November to February, on account of the seasonality of milk production in Ireland. In a recent study, however, there was no evidence of a dilution effect on SCC with increasing milk yield in Irish dairy cattle. The aim of this paper is to estimate the impact of removal of the seasonality formula on the eligibility of Irish herds to supply raw milk for processing of dairy products. Bulk tank SCC data from 2013 were collected from 14 cooperatives in Ireland. The geometric mean of SCC test results was calculated for each calendar month. We then calculated the number of herds and volume of milk supplied falling in three SCC categories (<200,000, 200,000-400,000, >400,000 cells/mL) in Ireland during 2013 based on their geometric mean SCC every month. Each herd was assigned an 'eligibility to supply' status (always compliant, under warning (first warning, second warning, third warning) and liable for suspension) each month based on their 3-month rolling geometric mean, using methods as outlined in EU and Irish legislation. Two methods were used to calculate the 3-month rolling geometric mean. We then determined the number of herds and volume of milk supplied by 'eligibility to supply' status in Ireland during 2013. All calculations were conducted with and without the seasonality adjustment. The analyses were performed on 2,124,864 records, including 1,571,363 SCC test results from 16,740 herds. With the seasonality adjustment in place, 860 (5.1%) or 854 (5.1%) of herds should have been liable for suspension during 2013 if calculation method 1 or 2, respectively, had been used. If the seasonality adjustment were removed, it is estimated that the number of herds liable for suspension would increase from 860 to 974 (13.2% increase) using calculation method 1, or from 854 to 964 (12.9% increase) using calculation method 2. The modelled impact of such removal would be relatively minor, based on available data, regardless of the method used to calculate the 3-month rolling geometric mean. The focus of the current study was quite narrow, effectively from July to December 2013. Therefore, the results are an underestimate of the total number of herds liable for suspension during 2013. They may also underestimate the true percentage change in herds liable for suspension, with the removal of the seasonality formula. A national herd identifier was lacking from a sizeable percentage of the 2013 bulk tank SCC data, but will be needed if these data are to be meaningfully used for this or other purposes.
University College Dublin ->