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Dive into data to reduce mastitis cases

Mastitis is a well-discussed topic in the dairy industry; however, it is still one of the biggest drivers behind antibiotic use in dairy herds, noting that there are large usage variations between farms. Udder health is key and some antibiotic use could be avoided or be better targeted if producers worked more closely with their vet to prevent mastitis.

The average mastitis incidence across the UK herd is between 30 and 35 cases per 100 cows, with the top 25% of units seeing as few as 16 cases per 100 cows. Below 10 cases is exceptional, but it’s something all producers can aim for, particularly when according to the latest Kingshay figures, the cost per case of mastitis is £334.

Where to start? Data is key when reducing mastitis incidence. Some farmers will keep meticulous records of cases, and others will think that they don’t have any useful information to even begin a mastitis investigation. However, most of it is already available to you through somatic cell count (SCC) data generated by milk recording organisations including CIS and NMR. This data is mastitis gold. It is extremely useful and an ideal starting point when investigating mastitis incidence, patterns and causes in herds. As vets, it forms the foundation of mastitis prevention and control plans. Additionally, it can be shared directly with us so that we can be proactive.

At LLM, we use specific programs including TotalVet and Digifarm from Kingshay, to build a picture of the herd’s udder health. SCC can tell us a lot but adding information about clinical cases to what’s being seen in the SCC data can help to create an even clearer picture. Data can give a steer on the type of bugs that can be causing a mastitis issue in a herd, whether the issue is environmental or contagious, or if the issues are occurring during lactation or being picked up during the dry period. For example, if a herd is experiencing a high number – 20% or more – chronic mastitis cases (chronic = repeat cases) and herd average somatic cell count rises above 200,000 cells/ml throughout the year then this can be indicative of a contagious mastitis problem. We can then look with the farm team at when, during their lactation, cows are picking up mastitis and how well they are recovering from infection.

Patterns are great because they can really help to pinpoint a problem, and, contrary to expectations, they can often tell us more about the likely causes of mastitis than milk bacteriology alone. Work with your vet to look at patterns and create a clear picture of what’s going on in your herd; this will allow you to target areas to reduce the number of mastitis cases and ultimately antibiotic use.

Case Example: Autumn-block-calving Herd : 40 mastitis cases per 100 cows – considerably higher than the national average.

SCC data revealed a low herd average, and there wasn’t an issue with ‘chronic’ cows, but the herd was seeing a high number of clinical cases, often after the first 30 days of lactation. The herd data pointed us to an environmental lactational mastitis problem. If the clinical cases were the result of a contagious pathogen, Staph aureus for example, we’d expect to see a high bulk SCC and more chronic cows. Knowing this we reviewed treatment protocols and tackled the source of the problem by looking at the herd’s environment, and particularly what had changed when clinical mastitis incidence had first started to increase. Everything was assessed within cow housing – the passageways, feed fence and cubicles. It was noted that there was no brisket board in the cubicles and the cows were lying too far forward – potentially ‘mucking’ in the beds, with a high percentage of beds requiring cleaning each day.

A length of flexible plastic pipe was installed along the front of the cubicles to help better position the cows when lying down. Since there’s been an 83% reduction in clinical cases. Everything we’ve done – and continue to do – is based on the foundations of SCC and clinical-case data. Without that, we’d be unable to make a targeted plan and make real progress in a relatively short space of time.

Thank you to LLM Vets & Jenny Bellini.

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