For Welsh dairy farmers Jane and Lee Guest, a move away from antibiotic dry cow therapy to using teat sealants has cut mastitis rates and eased herd management.
THE UK dairy industry has been challenged with cutting the use of antibiotic dry cow tubes by 20 per cent and increase the use of teat sealants by 40 per cent by 2020.
Until 2015, the entire 70-cow British Friesian herd at Pentre Farm, Lixwm, Flintshire, was dried off using antibiotic dry cow tubes, regardless of whether the cows had mastitis.
However, Jane and Lee Guest found cows were still contracting summer mastitis, even after receiving antibiotics and being treated with a fly product.
The majority of cows at Pentre Farm are dry during July and August, which is a high-risk period for summer mastitis. In some cows, infection got so bad they died.
Mrs Guest says: “One cow is too many to lose, which is why we had to do something about it.”
She decided to take a leap and in August 2015, started drying cows off using a teat sealant instead of antibiotic dry cow tubes.
Since then, she has not looked back, with cases of summer mastitis now rare. Prior to this cell counts averaged 70,000, with a clinical mastitis rate of 23 per cent (16 out of 70 cows).
Now cell counts average 56,000 and mastitis levels 18 per cent (16 cases out of 90 cows).
It has also improved herd management as cows can enter the milking herd straightaway, should they calve earlier than expected.
Mr Guest explains: “Cows are served naturally and although we observe 75 per cent of cows bulling, we do have some cows that calve earlier than expected.
“When we were using antibiotics, this was a problem, as it meant they could not enter the milking herd straightaway. By using teat sealants, the worry of cows calving earlier has been removed.”
Cows are dried off using a teat sealant and nothing else. At drying off a fresh pair of gloves is used for each cow. The teats are cleaned until each teat is ‘spotless’.
A barrier dip is then applied before gently infusing the sealant into the teat canal. Stockholm tar is applied as a fly repellent.
Mrs Guest says using a teat sealant is just part of the picture to keep mastitis at bay and reducing antibiotic use.
“You may have the best drying off routine, but if hygiene at housing is poor or your routine at
milking is not right, then you will still see cases,” she says.
In order to keep mastitis levels down, Mrs Guest has a thorough milk routine. Teats are pre-dipped using a foam dip and each cow has its teats wiped with an individual paper towel. Teats are then spray dipped after milking.
She says: “We do not have Automatic Cluster Removers (ACRs) or cluster flushes, so we have to make sure everything is clean.
“We have mastitis detectors in the parlour, which will highlight any clinical mastitis straightaway. We also perform a California Milk Test on a cow if we see cell counts going up. This means any treatment for mastitis is targeted.”
Cows are housed outside for most of the year and are cubicle housed over the winter on mattresses. Fresh lime is added onto the mattresses twice a day, to maintain cleanliness.
“As a farmer I know we all have old habits that die hard, but if there is no infection at drying off there is no need to use antibiotics because there is nothing there to kill,” Mrs Guest says.
“It is really important not to be scared of using teat sealants on their own, and as long as all the
other bits of the jigsaw are right, there is no reason you shouldn’t give it a go.”
Guide to using teat sealants
When managing dry cows, correct procedures must be followed to prevent mastitis infections.
At all times, dry cow materials should be kept away or shielded from possible fecal/urine contamination. Disposable gloves should be worn during the disinfection process.
Zoetis vet Dr Judith Roberts outlines how best to insert a teat sealant:
1 Teats should be clean and dry. If teats are not clean, carefully wash and dry them prior to disinfection.
2 Using an alcohol pad, clean the end of the teat to remove any contaminated skin, dirt or manure. Repeat until the pad remains clean.
3 Disinfect the far teats before the near teats to avoid accidental contamination of previously disinfected teats.
4 Insert the teat sealant syringe nozzle into the teat canal, grasp the base of the teat near the udder attachment and slowly inject all contents. Use one complete syringe per quarter. Do not massage. The sealant must remain in the teat canal to be effective.
5 Insert the sealant into the nearest teats first to minimize contamination of teats that have not been treated.
6 After inserting the sealant, mark the cow so others can tell she has been dried off. Then dip each teat with a quality teat dip.