Managing mastitis in a large herd can be troublesome, particularly with unskilled labour and a high throughput parlour, but implementing strict management protocols is overcoming difficulties.

Dorset-based milk producer Nick Cobb told British Mastitis Conference delegates in Warks that installing a 24-point rotary parlour in 1997 had caused almost as many problems as it solved.

“We thought it would improve cow management and yields.

But instead it increased mastitis levels, with more than 20 cows receiving treatment at any time.”

This resulted in a change of vet practice and the employment of a milking technology specialist to help identify problem areas and propose new strategies to solve them.

“All cows were housed in straw yards, so stocking densities were lowered to reduce the risk of infection being picked up from bedding.

The herd also moved to three-times-a-day milking to make up for wasted milk and a full udder preparation routine was implemented, including pre-milking spray, wipe and post-milking spray.”

But it was a visit to the USA in 2001 which provided the impetus for Mr Cobb to dramatically change his management system.

“It was the first time I’d really studied intensive dairy units and seen cows housed on sand.

“Once I returned home we created a budget to build a 300-cow, sand-based system.

Then, after careful consideration, we decided to shut down one of the three units we had at that time and invest the money in the sand-based unit.

“Moving cows to sand resulted in an immediate reduction in clinical cases and saw somatic cell counts drop rapidly.”

Now the farm has 600 cows all on one site.

All cows are bedded on sand and milked through the 24-point rotary parlour.

“We have a clearly established milking routine, with one milker dusting sand from teats and pre-cleaning teats and a second drying teats and putting clusters on.”

While this has reduced mastitis, there are still some cases.

“With a number of eastern European staff milking cows, we now have a set protocol.

Any cows showing signs of mastitis are milked into a bucket and put into the hospital cow area.

“A sample is then taken and frozen with relevant antibiotic treatment administered.

Any drugs are administered by the herd manager to ensure cows are treated with the right drug and all withdrawal times are adhered to,” said Mr Cobb.

The British Mastitis Conference is organised by the Institute of Animal Health and the Dairy Group.