13 February 1998

Clean beds and passages cut risk of mastitis

By Jessica Buss

CARE of bedding and passageways to keep cows clean and control environmental mastitis is more important than ever this winter given the high performance potential of many animals, says dairy consultant John Hughes.

Mr Hughes warned producers at a meeting held by the Cedar Vet Group, in Hampshire, that breeding cows for higher yields had reduced the teats natural defences against mastitis (seebox).

E coli bugs, which cause environmental mastitis, are present in the cows digestive tract and are passed out on to bedding. More of these bugs are found when she is stressed or scouring. Cows bring these bugs into the parlour during milking and they are then transferred into the udder.

It was, therefore, important to keep cows clean, explained Mr Hughes. Straw yards must be bedded with dry straw good enough for feeding. It was worth checking straw for moisture content and moulds.

Straw at 36% moisture, was no good for bedding and any which was mouldy would become hot within days, encouraging bacteria to multiply.

"Bed straw yards with a little straw twice a day, or tease it out twice a day. Mucking out every four weeks will also help reduce mastitis risks."

Mr Hughes suggested ensuring cubicles have a slope, to assist drainage, and a soft comfortable surface. "Dust with hydrated lime and bed every day, and tidy them twice a day."

It was also vital to keep cows unsoiled by slurry from passageways. These should also be 3.6m (12ft) wide to avoid cows getting splashed with slurry, and scraped frequently to prevent any build up. When an automatic scraper bathed feet in slurry it was transferred to the udder, warned Mr Hughes. He preferred to see cows on slats that removed slurry from them quickly.

Good ventilation also helped cut the growth of mastitis bugs. When cows were panting it meant there was not enough ventilation in a building, he warned.

Todays cows, with lower defences against mastitis also made it essential to reduce transfer of bugs in the parlour. Wearing gloves for milking, he believed, was now essential to prevent challenging the teat with bacteria.

"You cannot sterilise hands, but you can sterilise gloves in soapy water. Wash gloved hands between batches of cows. Wearing gloves is more pleasant and also reduces the risks of milkers suffering from leptospirosis, E coli and salmonella." He recommended using disposable surgical gloves.

Disposable surgical gloves during milking will help reduce mastitis.

CUTTING MASTITIS RISK

&#8226 Use feed quality straw for bedding.

&#8226 Ensure adequate ventilation

&#8226 Keep cubicles and passageways clean.

&#8226 Wear gloves for milking.

Threat rising

Breeding cows for higher yields, which necessitates selecting for faster milking speeds, has reduced the teats natural defences against mastitis.

The muscle in the teat canal is becoming shorter and weaker and the sphincter muscle that closes the teat end is weaker, too. Pushing yields higher is stressing cows and reducing their immune status and ability cope with environmental mastitis bugs, says consultant John Hughes.