Food Dialogues Blog

Who we are, how we work, and why we love what we do.

There Is No Pus In Milk

You may have seen them: graphics floating around on social media claiming that there is pus in milk. Gross! But, wait a minute. Is there actually pus in milk or is that just a myth?

I’m a dairy farmer and I am here to tell you that it is a myth. There is NOT pus in your milk. Sure, animal activist groups would like for you to believe that there is pus in milk, but what they are actually referring to is the level of white blood cells in milk.

White blood cells are infection fighters in the body. An elevated white blood cell count may indicate that the cow is fighting an infection, such as mastitis. Farmers work hard to keep animals and the facilities as clean as possible, but occasionally infections happen. The presence of white blood cells does not indicate a sick animal; some white blood cells are normal. Only when we see high levels of white blood cells does it become an issue. This is true of organic milk and conventional milk. Dairy farmers closely monitor white blood cell count and refer to it as Somatic Cell Count (SCC).

SCC is the main indicator of milk quality in the dairy industry, and farmers work hard to keep a low SCC. SCC essentially reflects animal health. While the legal SCC limit in the U.S. is 750,000, most dairy co-ops and creameries require a SCC below 400,000. Because dairy farmers are financially rewarded for low herd SCC and penalized for high ones, most strive to have a SCC below 200,000.

Every load of milk is quality tested when it reaches the creamery to ensure that the milk you put on your table is the very best quality! In addition to SCC, milk is regularly tested for antibiotics and protein and fat content.

What do dairy farmers do to maintain a low SCC? Basically, we work hard every day to provide our cows with a safe, clean and healthy living environment. Here are just a few things dairy farmers do to keep their cows happy and healthy:

  1. Keep cows clean, dry and comfortable at all times.
    By providing fresh, dry bedding, such as sand or shavings, and regularly removing manure from pens, farmers are able to keep cows clean and decrease the spread of bacteria. Proper barn ventilation, adequate space and minimizing the fly population also plays a role in maintaining a low SCC.
  2. Seek assistance from qualified dairy professionals.
    It takes a village to raise a healthy and productive herd of cattle. That is why many dairy farmers seek advice from others within the industry. Dairy farmers regularly have visits from their veterinarian, dairy nutritionist, equipment specialist and milk-plant field representative.
  3. Run individual cow SCC tests through a reliable laboratory.
    Once a month, a milk tester will visit a dairy farm and takes a sample of milk from each and every cow. This keeps dairy farmers accountable and can easily identify cows with high SCC.
  4. Maintain a consistent milking procedure.
    By providing a pre- and post-milking dip, such as iodine, and properly cleaning each teat, farmers can decrease the spread of bacteria and lower SCC. Regularly cleaning and sanitizing milking equipment is also vital for herd health.
  5. Maintain milking equipment in good, working order.
    Most farmers have a routine performance and maintenance program in place for all dairy equipment. With regular check-ups and replacing parts when needed, equipment can function properly and keep cows healthy.

So, there you have it! There is not pus in your milk; just, normal white blood cells. While high levels of white blood cells can be unsafe, dairy farmers -and SO many others in the industry- work hard to ensure that the only milk reaching your dinner table is safe and quality tested. Whether you choose organic or conventional, know that your milk is safe and comes from farmers who care.

To read more from Annaliese, visit her site: moderndayfarmchick.com

Annaliese Wegner is a Wisconsin dairy farmer. She is part of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance’s Digital Voices Council. All opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.

Sources:

University of Minnesota extension dairy team. “15 Ways to Reduce Somatic Cell Counts.” Dairy Herd Management. N.p., 26 Apr. 2012. Web. 13 July 2017

Michael Looper, and Department Head-Animal Science. “Reducing Somatic Cell Count in Dairy Cattle.” Agriculture and Natural Resources (n.d.): n. pag. Division of Agriculture Research and Extension. University of Arkansas. Web.