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Mastitis – How being Proactive Pays Dividends

Despite what you may have thought – all Mastitis is not equal – apart from most cases being commonly caused by one of several bacteria. Since Mastitis costs around $1050.31 per cow in Canada1 it needs to be taken seriously to stem the frustrating loss of money, time and wasted milk from your bottom line.

Checkup kitUnfortunately, it is impossible to know which bacteria cause the problems without measuring them – and until now there has been no fast and accurate way to do so.

Using the on-farm culture system checkup brings high quality results within 24 hours. Measurement of each case of mastitis with checkup on-farm culture is a smart way to gain information about your unique situation – this can vary during the season, between farms and from cow to cow.
In cases of Mastitis some of these bacteria are able to “go away” all by themselves using the immune system of the cow, while other mastitis pathogens will not respond to antibiotics, and some are not even bacteria!

Just as the bugs causing the problems vary, likewise treatments are not equal – some are broad spectrum and include large quantities of antibiotic that are unnecessary for most cases of mastitis, some are better than others at targeting pathogens. To ensure animal welfare it is important to realise some cases are painful and require NSAID administration for cow comfort.
Getting a handle on these factors is important so it is essential to develop a protocol with your Veterinarian for how you will respond to cases of mastitis to ensure best results. Cow factors such as age, previous treatment history, yield and physical symptoms are considered along with on-farm culture results.

Some key points to consider when using on-farm culture are:

Is the cow sick?

95+% of the time a cow is not sick with a case of mastitis. Cases generally don’t get nastier. If a cow is not sick you have time to measure what you have! If a cow has acute symptoms, take a sample for culture, but consult your vet for treatment advice without delay.

How to take a sample:

Take a clean sample to avoid wasting your time and money. A clean sample is an investment into your results and gives you an indication on how clean you need to be when handling other teat products such as dry cow, teat seal and intra-mammary drugs. If you struggle to achieve a clean sample you need to brush up on your technique.

Identification of bacteria is important information.

On-farm culture (or taking a sample to your vet to culture) will identify the bacteria involved in the case, drastically increase your chances of success with treatment, tell you if treatment is necessary and also give you information as to how this case came about. For example: Staph aureus, a contagious pathogen in mastitis cases was introduced to your herd on the hands of people. Like cliques of people, bugs tend to hang out in rather specific places, if you find out what bugs you have, your vet can give you great advice on where your problems might lie- you can help prevent mastitis!

Develop Treatment Protocol

Using the wrong antibiotic increases the likelihood of the case not resolving – be sure to discuss protocol with your vet and keep good records of pathogens found, quarters and cows to track each cow. It also contributes to antibiotic resistance- we need to be careful to ensure we use antibiotic prudently.

Get your treatment right to avoid creating problems.

Antibiotics doesn’t mean you don’t need to be clean! Be ridiculously clean when using any dry cow, intra-mammary or injectable remedy. Never wipe teats down with paper towels or rags from in the parlour, wear clean gloves and use alcohol swabs. Often pathogens are introduced to the udder from dirty hands, towels or shared cannulas.

Know when to stop.

Sometimes antibiotics simply won’t work. Some bugs are very tough when it comes to treatment, and some are tough and also horrifically contagious. Knowing what you have is key. Identifying a case of contagious mastitis will ensure you can develop a protocol with your vet for all of your treatments, and implement strategies to prevent spread to other animals. While sometimes this might mean a bit of short term pain, the long term gains are realised quickly once strategies are put into place.

Mastitis costs more than just the drugs.

Cows with subclinical mastitis are less likely to get in calf and have lower milk yields and higher SCC than “clean cows”.

Strive for excellence.

A 100,000 cell count herd has around 20% of cows with subclinical infections!

Adopt contagious cow strategies.

Where a Staph aureus cow has been cultured from your herd, it is likely there are more cows infected. Herd Screen on a quarterly basis can help to identify subclinical Staph aureus cows as well as cows with other cases of subclinical mastitis. This can be a useful tool for buying cows, selective dry cow therapy, mating and culling decisions.