With the warm and wet weather conditions of late proving favourable for bacteria survival, vet Zoe Waterson reminds farmers to be vigilant against environmental mastitis.
Vigilance when it comes to maintaining a hygienic environment, together with a clean and consistent milking routine, remain two of the best measures for decreasing the risk of environmental mastitis.
Zoe Waterson, of Nantwich Farm Vets, says while it remains a year-round issue and the most common source of the infections which cause mastitis in the UK dairy herd, the mild and damp conditions of late have created a favourable environment for E.coli bacteria to thrive.
She explains that with e.coli being a commonly found pathogen in the gut of most animals, potential routes of infection exist anywhere where cow faeces can come into contact with the udder.
Ms Waterson says: “Any situation where cows can come into contact with faeces, whether that be in bedding, in yards, in the parlour or so on, can provide a route of infection.
“While environmental mastitis is not classed as contagious, it is about making sure hygiene and parlour routines do not enhance the spreading of muck which can, in turn, spread the infection.”
She adds poorly designed housing and bad bedding management can exacerbate the situation and lead to more likelihood of infection.
“Bacteria is notorious for surviving in dry cow and calving pens. Because the cow is immunocompromised around calving anyway and often moved into various environments in the lead up to calving, maintaining well-bedded, clean areas where calving and close up cows are housed can help reduce risk.
“Slurry build-up around water troughs or on hard standing can also pose an issue. And footbaths, if they are not in use, can become a slurry pool which the cows then have to walk through when exiting the parlour, causing splash back to occur on freshly opened teats.
“Bacteria can also survive at pasture, in wet and muddy areas if paddocks are not rested adequately between grazings or where stocking rate is too high for a certain area.
“Tracks where significant muck and dirt has built up can also pose a risk.”
Transmission, she says, can take place in the parlour if adequate hygiene practices during milking are not being followed. Having a good milking routine in place is therefore crucial to reduce the risk of spread here.
Ms Waterson says: “This should include a consistent pre-milking routine including fore stripping and a good pre-dipping routine.
“Allowing sufficient contact time between the pre-dip and the teat is crucial, at least 30 seconds of contact before it is wiped for the cluster to then be put on.”
Ms Waterson explains e.coli can cause a range of mastitis presentations, from a clinical mastitis which can self-cure, through to toxic mastitis.
She says: “Instances we have been seeing of late can take hold very quickly, cows seem toxic but are okay in their quarters.”
When it comes to control, preventing new infections remains the most effective approach, and therefore working out when cows are getting infected and where most infections are coming from is a good starting point.
Ms Waterson says this can be done by keeping good records of clinical mastitis and information from milk recording.
This can then be used to help identify any existing patterns of infection, for example either predominantly during the dry period or during lactation.
Ms Waterson says: “Identifying cases of clinical mastitis as quickly as possible increases the likelihood of cure and minimises risk of transmission of infection.
“Consistency in approach too is also important and it is therefore important all staff know what signs of mastitis to look out for and how to respond, for example applying more vigilance during periods of high risk; one example being the first 30 days of lactation.
“Foremilk stripping remains the most effective method of spotting a clinical case, and the California mastitis test is still an effective and simple procedure which can show you some changes early on to detect which quarters are likely to be affected and targeted for treatment.
“Some of the milder cases will respond to tubing and treating, but in severe cases where the pathogen enters the bloodstream and causes a huge immune response, prompt attention is key, alongside spotting the signs early can enhance the outcome.
“Prompt treatment with fluids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can lead to better outcomes under guidance from your vet.”
If in doubt, Ms Waterson advises farmers to speak to their own vet about early detection protocols, which can vary from farm to farm, alongside treatment protocols for both mild and severe cases.
She also reiterates that it is crucial for everyone on the farm team to be following the same steps.
She says: “It can be easy on your own farm and system not to notice little things, so it may be worth having a walk around and discussion with your own vet, who should be objective and be able to spot areas where small changes could be made to make a big difference.”