Understanding and Controlling Mastitis

August 2014

Scott Charmley called in a vet consultant to address an ongoing mastitis problem in his herd

Scott Charmley had a high BSCC in his herd three seasons ago and through understanding his problem and putting in place the SAMM plan and healthy udder control measures, he has for the last two seasons had low BMSCC and few problems with clinical mastitis.

Scott milks 217 cows on 78 ha plus a 6 ha run-off. His dairy is a 20-a-side herringbone with automatic cup removers and Protrack drafting. This is his fourth season on the farm and his second as 50-50 sharemilker.

“The previous sharemilkers were trying to build herd numbers, but they were keeping cows they shouldn’t have, so in my first season here the average total cell count was 269,000 and we were getting grades all the time,” says Scott. “It was my first year milking cows and I didn’t realise it wasn’t supposed to be like that. We were stripping the whole herd two or three times a week trying to find the infected cows, and my father said it was ridiculous, so we called in our vet Mary Lund (with Tararua Vet Services).”

“We tested the whole herd and drafted out the high somatic cell cows, and sampled the milk of every cow in that mob to find out whether they had staphylococcal or streptococcal mastitis. We had noticed a pattern from the previous sharemilkers where they would treat a high mastitis cow with dry cow therapy, but those cows would come back in with mastitis next season.”

Staph mastitis is very hard to cure, so Scott culled 14 cows. At the end of the season he treated the whole herd with high strength long acting dry cow therapy. Heifers were also getting staph infections, so they were teat sealed.

With Mary Lund he examined milking procedures and decided that the automatic teat sprayer was not giving complete coverage of udders.

“So we threw out the $7000 automatic teat sprayer and bought two $100 manual sprayers and went back to manually spraying teats in the pit. It makes the milking 10 minutes or so longer, but the advantage is that you get to examine each udder and can check out any quarters that still look full or inflamed,” says Scott.

“I also put little pieces of stainless steel mesh in the bottom of the sight glass and if there is any clinical mastitis it accumulates there. You just roll the cups over and you can see instantly if there is any sign of infection, and if there is, you can deal with it straight away so that it doesn’t become an ongoing problem. I also make sure that particular set of cups isn’t used again during that milking, so that there is no cross contamination.”

If Scott suspects that a cow has mastitis, he drafts her out and separates her from the herd. At the next milking, he will bring her in last and do a Rapid Mastitis Test (RMT) and treat her if necessary with the appropriate antibiotic and/or anti-inflammatory. Once she has had the full course of treatment and the withholding period is over she goes back into the herd, but two or three days later Scott does an RMT again to ensure that she is completely clear. Sometimes extended treatment is needed, and if a case is particularly stubborn he will cull the cow.

Using these procedures under Mary’s guidance, Scott began to tackle the mastitis problem and had great success, going from a seasonal average BSCC of 269,000 in his first season down to just 52,000 in the next one.

“We actually got a certificate from Fonterra saying we were the 10th lowest farm in the whole of their suppliers. Last year the average count was 77,000 and we were 169th but still in the top 10%, and the average count for this season so far is 59,000,” says Scott.

“It is just so much easier now that I don’t have to battle with mastitis any more. I am not stripping cows and I don’t have to deal with big penicillin mobs. These days in a season we might need to treat 12 to 15 cows and most of those occur in spring. When it comes to the end of the season I cull very few cows for mastitis and I can be really ruthless with that because there are so few of them. This year I had the problem of having to throw out drugs that had gone past their use-by date.”

Not having to cull many cows for mastitis also means Scott can pay more attention to culling for other problem traits – udder conformation, temperament, etc.

Mary Lund says Scott has been successful because he took on board the advice he was given and was diligent about applying it.

“When Scott’s father called me in we looked at the whole milking procedure and at cow records. Scott has very good records and we noted that there were some cows with consistently high cell counts so we discussed getting rid of some of them. It was mid-season and starting to get dry so he could do some culling quite comfortably,” says Mary.

“We had a good look at preventative measures – marking and milking high cell count cows last, manual teat spraying, dry cow therapy etc, and Scott did everything really well and got a very good result very quickly.”

Mary highlights the value of having good herd records. “We could go back three seasons and have a look at individual cows and could see those problem cows popping up again and again. We could see what treatment they had had in the past and what the outcome had been, so it was really useful to have all those records,” she says.

“I recommend that farmers use the SmartSAMM plan or the healthy udder guide and use it in the separate modules so that you can look at early lactation, mid lactation, drying-off, and the dry period. Sit down with the staff involved and work out a strategy for each of those periods. The good thing is that you can work out your own protocols or procedures so you can decide on a course of action, document it and follow it.”

Mary says that on some farms people just aren’t aware of the importance of mastitis and the problems involved. Too often they just accept that it happens and things get out of hand because they are not looking for the signs and when they do see them, they don’t do anything about it.

“The key messages are to keep an eye out and take action as soon as you see the signs; and to understand mastitis, how it occurs and what can happen at the different stages of the season. If you understand what is happening then it is much easier to put in place procedures that will help to eliminate any problem,” she says.

“Mastitis can be such a big issue on many farms and people get bogged down in it, but it is a matter of taking a systematic approach and there are more and more tools available now to help farm staff to do things right.”

For key information go to http://www.smartsamm.co.nz.