Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is there Pus in Milk?

Recently I was asked two questions; Is there pus in milk? and 2) What’s my view of Somatic Cell Count? These topics are sometimes linked so I will address both of them in this blog.

There is no pus in milk. This is sometimes confused with Somatic Cell Count (SCC) which is a measure of white blood cells naturally present in cow’s milk (also found in human milk). White blood cells enable cows to fight infection and ensure good health. SCC is a general gauge of a cow's well-being. A more elevated white blood cell count indicates an infection in a cow.

Essential to maintaining a low SCC are; 1) a clean and dry environment, 2) ample space to lie down, 3) consistent udder preparation and cleaning procedures prior to milking, and 4) maintaining an adequate vaccination program. Dairy producers strive to keep SCC low. Many dairy farmers receive a premium for low SCC. Higher SCC can increase incidence of mastitis which decrease milk production. 

This is a barn at our farm - the cows lie in clean, dry sand beds
It's important for cows to get plenty of rest and relaxation everyday
To ensure high quality dairy products, SCC’s are monitored in milk shipments using standards outlined in the U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO). In the U.S., the legal maximum SCC for Grade A milk is 750,000 cells/mL. However, most milk in the U.S. has a much lower SCC. The U.S. averaged 217,000 cells/mL in 2011 down from 228,000 cells/mL in 2010.

There have been efforts by some in the dairy industry to lower the legal limit from 750,000 cells/mL to 400,000 cells/mL. I support this change but it hasn’t happened yet. Some countries who import U.S. milk products will only accept products with SCC of 400,000 cells/mL or lower. The majority of U.S. dairy farms meet this criteria.

Research shows as herd size increased, milk yield generally increased and SCC decreased. During 2010, the average test-day SCC in herds with fewer than 50 cows was 286,000 compared to 251,000 in herds with 100 - 149 cows; 217,000 in herds with 500 - 999 cows; and 184,000 in herds with over 3,000 cows. Source: USAgNet 04/28/2011

SCC varies monthly peaking during the summer months when high temperatures and humidity increase stress on cows and provide conditions more favorable for bacterial growth. SCC’s are normally lowest in the winter.  

Dairy farmers know the importance of keeping cows comfortable by providing clean and dry housing with enough space for animals to relax. As I mentioned in a recent blog, cows spend over 12 hours each day lying down and resting. We want to make sure they receive quality rest to stay healthy and productive because happy cows produce quality milk!


  1. Thank you for explaining that. I hate the way the media distorts terms and data to scare people. I understand it so much better, thank you!

    1. I appreciate your comment. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic instead of relying on one news reporter's opinion!

  2. I'm sure the cows you raise on your farm are different, because they are actually cared for. But milk from the major farms are disturbing in the way they treat their animals.

    Charles Knouse, DO, general practice physician, stated in a Aug. 18, 2009 e-mail to ProCon.org:
    "While the use of the word 'pus' is admittedly pejorative, it is nonetheless an appropriate word. To say 'white blood cells' would not convey the emotional - nor the holistic - totality of the real situation. In reality, hormone treated cows, in confined spaces, over-bred for production, denied fresh grass and over-milked, are going to be stressed and are going to have far higher rates of mastitis [infected teats] than well-cared for cows (and goats) at an organic dairy devoted to raw milk - and this WILL mean far higher counts of inflammatory cells and inflammation products in the milk - 'pus'...
    I have no trust at all in arguments from the pasteurized milk side of the debate; defending their side on the basis that all milk contains 'some' white blood cells and therefore the word 'pus' should not be used... Modest amounts of white blood cells normally found in clean, healthy milk (which are there because the faithful little helpers get EVERYWHERE looking for germs), is not the same as inflammatory cells and inflammatory products from inflamed teats and udders."

  3. Dairy farmers have a responsibility to provide excellent care to their animals. What motivation would we, or any dairy farmer, have to treat animals poorly?

    I visited the ProCon website to read the “Pros (yes)” and “Cons (no)” listed under the question “Is there pus in milk?” Charles’ opinion weighed in on the “yes” side. Others weighed in on the “no” side. It’s good people can share their views on both sides.

    Charles is certainly entitled to his opinion, but it’s not accurate. Milk goes through a number of quality tests and must meet high standards before reaching store shelves. Both organic and traditional dairy farmers are committed to caring for their cows. To say organic cows are treated better therefore produce better milk is not accurate. While on the ProCon website I read other statements from Charles and found him to be very anti commercial dairy. It’s unfortunate and irresponsible that he chooses to spread untrue information about how traditional dairy farms feed and care for their cows.

  4. Hello, im learning about farming practices yhrough a lot of reading, I have recently become vegan because of things I have read. Im not here to pass judgement just curious about big industry vs family farms. I have a few questions id like to ask you, a dairy farmer rather than just watching documentaries which could be one sided if you practice differently. It already looks different in the pics above. Do you artificially inseminate? What happens to the calves after they are born? What happens to the a cow should she get an infection, or stop producing milk? I have read a lot about casein and humans not having the enzyme to digest it well, and casomorphin (hope i spelled it right... sorry if not) being as adfictive as drugs. Do you have any info on that? Thanks in advance for reading my questions and answering. I hope I did not offend, im just looking to hear the other side of this.

    1. Thank you for seeking information to make an informed decision Jazz. I want to start by sharing that almost every farm in this country is owned and operated by a family. 98% of U.S. dairy farms are family owned. Farms come in all sizes from 50 cows to 5,000 or more cows, but regardless of size dairy farmers share much in common. All the dairy farmers I know really enjoy working with and care for cows.

      We use 100% artificial insemination on our farm. It’s very common for dairy farms to use A.I. Some farms choose to use breeding bulls as well, but we don’t have any bulls on our farm. Regarding calf care, check out my blog Growing Up on our Farm from Calf to Heifer to Milk Cow @ http://thedairymom.blogspot.com/2010/12/growing-up-on-our-farm-calf-to-heifer.html. To learn about cows when their productive life is complete, check out Bessie provides Milk and Beef @ http://thedairymom.blogspot.com/2011/10/bessie-provides-milk-and-beef.html.

      The majority of nutrition professionals recognize milk and dairy as an important part of a healthy diet. For your questions about how humans digest milk, I encourage you to seek input from a non-biased dietician.

      I encourage you to visit the Frequently Asked Questions page on this blog. This page addresses many of the topics you’re curious about. Thanks.


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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