Annual incidence of mastitis ranges from 10 to 300 cases/100 cows, and at all but the lowest level it minimises the chances of making a profit with low milk prices, believes Jon Huxley.

At a Pfizer organised demonstration in Ceredigion, the Bristol Vet School vet added that independent data indicated that an average case of mastitis knocked 177 off herd profit.

But he believed a proactive approach and effective herd health planning could help struggling UK milk producers stay in business. This included keeping accurate records of all cases rather than estimating it.

Each incident logged should include the date, cow identity, the number of days into lactation, quarter affected, severity of the problem and the treatment used.

“But don’t put the information away in a drawer.

Compare it with what happened in the past and use national figures to benchmark what is happening in your herd.”

Control measures should be initiated before the mastitis problem escalates.

To tackle mastitis rigorous hygiene routines for milking, for sampling milk and for administering intramammary products were essential, he said.

To ensure treatment was appropriate milk samples should be sent for bacteriology to assess which pathogen was causing cases.

But he stressed these needed to be taken in a sterile way to prevent contamination with other bacteria around the parlour (see panel).

Cell count testing could also be useful, but Mr Huxley also promoted using a simple California Milk Test plate to check the cell count of milk drawn from each quarter.

But he had no faith in hand-held conductivity meters.

For the CMT he advised cleaning and disinfecting teats then taking the fore-milk before collecting the sample in the plate.

A thickening when reagent was added to a 2ml sample of milk from each quarter indicated the relative cell count within each quarter.

Another task for which he suggestd taking extra care was the way cows were prepared for the dry period.

The environment in which they were rested, also had a profound impact on the number of mastitis cases in their next lactations.

A cow was 10 times more likely to pick up an infection on any day during the dry period than on a day she was lactating.

Typically, about 50% of mastitis cases occurring in the first 100 days of lactation are caused by infections picked up while cows are dry, said Mr Huxley.