Somatic cell counts (SCC) is an indicator of the quality of milk. White blood cells known as leukocytes constitute the majority of somatic cells in question. The number of somatic cells increases in response to pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, a cause of mastitis.
Wondering what this has to do with soap-making, if anything? We thought a quick discussion on this topic would be interesting to the lay person who does not work in the Dairy field.
Somatic Cell Count testing or SCC is an indicator of milk health & quality. Milk is laboratory tested to learn how many white blood cells are showing up in the milk. White cells increase in number when a threat of infection exists. So if mastitis (udder infection) is trying to take hold or some other pathogen is present, the number of cells increases. Therefore, it is an immune response to an infectious organism.
Now, somatic cell counts can vary widely, rising after kidding until normal lactation sets in. It can also increase towards the end of lactation as milk constituents are becoming more concentrated as the animal’s udder dries up.
Lower SCC numbers generally indicate better animal health since somatic cells are born from inside the animal’s udder. So for dairy producers, periodic SCC testing is important for a number of reasons. When cell count number increase, production can drop off and this may be due to infection which can damage udder tissue. Infections produce toxins and toxins kill epithelial cells which are important to udder health.
The State of Ohio does not currently allow raw milk sales from the farm. Part of the objection to raw milk is the fear of high cell counts from unregulated farms. Testing for SCC is very inexpensive and we pull samples and ship to a laboratory to monitor milk quality. We do drink the milk from our goats and share it with family, so it is a small precaution to ensure milk health.
Granted, most producers who test for SCC are large dairies producing milk for the general public. They are required to do so. There are financial rewards for good numbers and fines for bad numbers. Herd management techniques, proper cleaning of the milking equipment, care of the udder, cleanliness, sanitation, environment all have a huge impact on SCC numbers.
If the milk is only being used for soap, SCC testing is not required. But in our view, just because it is not required, does not mean that it isn’t vitally important. Personally, if I were a consumer, I would not care for a product made with milk that had harbored an infection, no matter how small. Yes, sodium hydroxide (lye) as the reagent would typically kill any residual infection, but that is not the point. Premium soap requires premium milk and we prefer to establish that at the outset of production. It is this attention to detail that sets us apart.
We are in the process of drying up our herd, allowing the girls to rest before breeding season begins. With multiple chest freezers stocked to the gills with milk, they deserve a rest. So beginning in the Spring, after kidding season, we plan to publish the results of our SCC tests on our website. We want our customers to know, that even though the product is SOAP, we take milk quality very seriously.