Spotting the cow with a swollen quarter is one thing, but planning how to treat it can be quite another.

Historically, milk sampling has yielded a variety of results.

But with modern techniques available, Glos-based vet Roger Blowey says it is possible to get more from a bacteriological examination of bulk tank milk.

“Most producers are familiar with bulk antibody tests for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, bovine viral diarrhoea and leptospirosis, and that the test provides a good insight into what is happening within the whole herd.”

With that in mind, he says more producers are increasingly using a quantitative differential bacteriological count of bulk milk as a tool in the investigation of mastitis and milk quality.

The majority of samples submitted to the lab are as a result of herd problems with hygiene, rising cell counts, fluctuating or high Bactoscans and/or a high incidence of clinical mastitis, reckons Mr Blowey.

“But, with much of the profit from milk production coming from bonus payments, more farms are submitting samples for routine monitoring on a monthly or two-monthly basis.

“And at a cost of about 65 for each sample, a bulk milk sample analysis every second month wouldn’t be a severe cost for a large dairy herd and would also keep the vet in touch with on-farm mastitis control and milk quality issues,” he adds.

But for sampling to be successful, it is essential milk remains cool from collection until arrival at the lab, he explains.

Farmers are issued with a sampling polystyrene box kit, containing two freezer packs, sampling pots and all the relevant paperwork.

“Producers wishing to send in individual samples to correspond with the bulk sample can request extra sampling pots beforehand,” he adds.

The box must then be taped air-tight and forwarded by overnight delivery to arrive at a temperature of between +4C and +8C, which is adequate for testing.”

Samples that arrive at a higher temperature are generally discarded, or the client is given the option of resampling.

This may happen on occasions in summer months, he adds.

Once samples have been analysed, a copy of results with any corresponding diagnosis are faxed to the farmer or vet.

“From sending off samples to results being returned to the farm, the process normally takes four days.”

And it’s not just Mr Blowey’s clients who are using this service, vets across the country are increasingly sending samples as well.

West Sussex based Rob Drysdale of West Point Vet Services is a regular user.

“It’s such an easy process of collecting milk, boxing it and sending it, coupled with that it saves valuable vet time on the farm working out specific mastitis and milk quality issues.”

Many vets under use this valuable tool, reckons Mr Drysale, whose practice sends off about 20 samples a month to the lab.

“It’s a good idea to get a sample off before you visit a new client, as this can speed up diagnosis.”