Determination of somatic cell count (SCC) is used worldwide in dairy practice to describe the hygienic status of the milk and the udder health of cows. When SCC is tested on a quarter level to detect single quarters with high SCC levels of cows for practical reasons, mostly foremilk samples after prestimulation (i.e. cleaning of the udder) are used. However, SCC is usually different in different milk fractions. Therefore, the goal of this study was the investigation of the use of foremilk samples for the estimation of total quarter SCC. A total of 378 milkings in 19 dairy cows were performed with a special milking device to drain quarter milk separately. Foremilk samples were taken after udder stimulation and before cluster attachment. SCC was measured in foremilk samples and in total quarter milk. Total quarter milk SCC could not be predicted precisely from foremilk SCC measurements. At relatively high foremilk SCC levels (>300×103 cells/ml) foremilk SCC were higher than total quarter milk. At around (50–300)×103 cells/ml foremilk and total quarter SCC did not differ considerably. Most interestingly, if foremilk SCC was lower than 50×103 cells/ml the total quarter SCC was higher than foremilk SCC. In addition, individual cows showed dramatic variations in foremilk SCC that were not very well related to total quarter milk SCC. In conclusion, foremilk samples are useful to detect high quarter milk SCC to recognize possibly infected quarters, only if precise cell counts are not required. However, foremilk samples can be deceptive if very low cell numbers are to be detected.