7 July 1995

IAHwork promises mastitis detection before clinical signs

MILK producers struggling to secure bonus payments for low somatic cell count milk can take heart from latest research at the Institute of Animal Health, Compton, Berks.

Researcher Dr Eric Hillerton told visitors to the Animal Health Centre that if research lived up to its early expectations farmers would be able to detect mastitis infection up to two to three milkings before any clinical signs developed.

Early treatment of the infected quarter at this stage would not only prevent clinical symptoms such as clots and hot quarters but could save on expensive milk withdrawal when a non-antibiotic treatment was used.

"Although clots have disappeared 72 hours after antibiotic treatment, the somatic cell count of milk from the infected quarter will be in excess of 500,000, and probably in the millions, for at least 10 days after that withdrawal period," said Dr Hillerton. "If we can cut the time that high somatic cell count milk is going into the bulk tank by reducing clinical cases it has got to contribute to an improvement in milk quality."

Dr Hillerton has been examining how to reduce somatic cell counts in milk by detecting mastitis before clinical signs develop for 18 months. He expects the technology to be developed commercially by the year end.

The IAH work uses conductivity sensors to detect mastitis in individual quarters two to three milkings before a herdsman would detect clots in the milk. Both IAH and Dutch researchers are looking at how this information can be used accurately in the parlour.

"Farmers would like to know whether the cow in stall number three will have clinical mastitis tomorrow morning, in which quarter and whether to treat it," said Dr Hillerton. Existing conductivity systems were not accurate enough to give that information.

He hopes development of the Compton research will give milk producers a system that measures conductivity of individual quarters and the confidence to treat infection before they see clots.

Dr Hillerton admitted more research was required to determine whether udder creams or the natural milk let-down hormone, oxytocin, could be effective at controlling the infection.

"The USA is keen on the use of oxytocin to reduce mastitis incidence because it encourages let- down, which helps get all bacteria and rubbish out of the udder." &#42