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New app gives instant SCC results

Melissa Miller Published on 30 May 2014
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A new app is changing the way dairymen track milk quality. The Milk Quality app allows an instant, cowside somatic cell count using an iPhone.

A sample of milk is placed in a disposable test slide, which is in turn placed in a reader that attaches to an iPhone.

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Testing with iphone

The slide is lined up with the phone’s integrated camera, and once the microscopically enhanced picture is taken, an app scans the image and counts the fluorescing somatic cells.

Within a minute, the test sample image and the calculated SCC is displayed.

Steve Mangan, the vice president of technical operations for Dairy Quality Inc., says, “You can determine a suspect cow very quickly while milking and determine whether the milk can go into the bulk tank or should be discarded.

You don’t have to send the sample away. You don’t have to wait six or seven days, and you don’t have to pay a lot of money for the results.”

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The app was formally released at the 2012 World Dairy Expo. Mangan is a dairy producer himself and described developing the app as part of his never-ending quest for on-farm milk analysis.

Gary Jonas

Mangan, in addition to being involved in his family dairy, is an engineer holding 11 dairy-related patents. He teamed up with Gary Jonas, company president and a self-proclaimed computer geek, to create this app.

Jonas says, “I think the main difference in this app is that for the first time, it’s in a mobile device. That allows the dairyman or herdsman to take the device straight into the milking parlour and react immediately to a sample.”

That immediate reaction not only allows a producer to keep high-SCC milk out of the bulk tank but also to treat any problems quickly.

The app software allows it to analyze the organization of the somatic cells and display the most likely cause for the infection.

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Jonas explains, “From the organization, you can determine what pathogen is resulting in a high SCC count, and the app helps with that.

For example, if it’s a strep infection, the image is quite different from a staff infection. The farmer can learn to see the difference, and the app itself is able to offer its opinion to say that this is very indicative of strep or staff.”

The app features record-keeping abilities to complement and interact with other herd management software.

Each SCC score can be stored to help a producer track individuals or manage trends. This data can be emailed or downloaded to other programs.

John Tremelin, a dairy producer from Ontario, recently purchased the app and began using it on his farm.

Tremelin says he was having trouble keeping his SCC under control and was hoping the app would help him keep it in line. He was able to use the app to find suspect animals and be able to tag the milk and keep it out of the tanks.

“I’m really glad I made the purchase because it gives you a sense of accomplishment that you are getting the SCC down and you know the number.”

Several challenges of traditional testing methods are addressed in this app. Timely results allow for better decisions and costs are also reduced as producers can test the milk themselves rather than sending the samples to a lab.

The nature of the app also allows for both individual and composite testing. While traditional composite tests are valuable to show overall herd health, these results can be misinterpreted.

Mangan says, “A cow may come back at 400,000, but what herdsmen aren’t realizing is that SCC is a dilution factor. What’s really going on 70 percent of the time is that it’s one quarter that’s affected, and it’s contributing to all the cells, so the three quarters may be normal but one quarter is at 2 million.

“You need to understand that it’s composite milk quality information, and that there is a potential hazard there that the herdsman can misinterpret the health of the cow.”

Another benefit of the app is that it provides an image for the producer to see in addition to the number.

Jonas says, “We’re having a real blast with it when we have guys that look at the app during a demonstration and say ‘Oh that’s what SCC is all about.’

Before it was simply a dumb number they had to stay under, but they didn’t get a real feel for what it meant.”

The company is currently working on increasing the number of pathogens the app can identify and is also planning on releasing an app that counts bacteria in general and may be used to identify TB in cattle.

Technology can give producers better tools to deal with the day-to-day challenges that come with being a dairy farmer.  PD

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