Monitoring herd management on an ongoing basis and translating this into proactive planning is key to controlling mastitis levels. Hannah Park reports...
When it comes to mastitis control and overall herd health, a team approach is needed to get the best results. This was the message from Bill May, veterinary surgeon and director at Lambert Leonard and May (LLM), who discussed some of the measures dairy units could consider when looking at controlling and reducing mastitis levels across the herd.
Mr May said incidents of mastitis cases remain high, but a shift in aetiology has led to more being caused by environmental factors rather than being contagious cases.
Acknowledging that there are multiple factors influencing mastitis levels across a herd, Mr May said cow management, milking preparation and machine function were key areas to look at to reduce the risk of mastitis.
He said herds looking to lower mastitis levels should consider monitoring, possibly alongside their vet or vet-tech or with the help of software, so that data collected could be discussed intermittently to make changes to management or practices to reduce and manage risk levels on a continual basis.
He said: “On average, we are still seeing around 30-plus cases per 100 cows per year. This has come down significantly but, with some units down at around 10 or fewer cases, it is achievable to get to these levels.
“Mastitis is a costly disease, around £250-£300 per case [AHDB], which is attributed to treatment but in the main, milk chuck out and can add up significantly when all cases in a herd are considered.”
Mr May said getting hold of reliable data had been one of the barriers in been able to monitor mastitis historically, especially for milk units not recording for an individual figure or actively recording the number of culls due to mastitis.
“An increasing focus on herd health means we are working with a growing number of farmers to get this information. At LLM, we now employ a number of vet-techs who are trained to do work which used to be carried out by vets to collect this data at a more reasonable rate for farmers.”
In addition to the help vet-techs give for data gathering, Mr May said it was important for the whole team on-farm to be on board with a mastitis reduction plan.
“This could involve the owner or herd manager who wants to put in place a monitoring scheme or plan, to the farm staff and milkers who will be involved in implementing any changes day-to-day.
“All individuals will have an impact on its success, so it is important they are engaged and are motivated by the benefit any management changes could bring for them, be that an economical saving, an improvement to efficiency of day-to-day running, or time-saving at milking.”
Since employing vet-techs, Mr May said it has enabled the practice to work more routinely alongside farms to gather information from milkings including teat and cleanliness scoring.
“In the past, it would have taken a serious issue to warrant the call-out of a vet and we were not able to get hold of the breadth of data regular scoring provides. By highlighting presence of things like hyperkeratosis due to over-milking, we can use this kind of data gathered over a period of time as part of investigation and on-going monitoring into mastitis levels on-farm.
“Cleanliness scoring is often another piece of the puzzle – and also very useful data to tie in with mastitis monitoring. In a dirty herd where teats are exposed to slurry, animals are more at risk from environmental infections.”
BUILD UP A BROADER PICTURE OR RISK FACTORS
Mr May said a look at milking machine data can also prove useful around mastitis case work-ups and farmers should not be put off in thinking they do not have the technical expertise, as a lot of observations could made by sight.
“Day-to-day observations can build up a valuable picture and milk flow is one example. If there is not enough stimulation to the teat and not enough milk let-down, there will typically be milk flow which then stops for a time lapse before flowing again.
"This means the teat is being subjected to vacuum pulsation but there is no milk flowing which prolongs milking time and leads to teat end damage.
“A look at teats post-milking could be valuable, as poor-fitting liners can have a big impact on teats which can be related to mastitis.
“Building up a picture of whether these things are happening during milking, how often, or to how many cows, can help to establish whether the machine or the milking process is a significant risk factor to mastitis levels.”