15 March 2002

Mastitis kept low – without antibiotics

By Richard Allison

LOW somatic cell counts and mastitis incidence can be achieved without using antibiotics, by adjusting milking times and using homeopathy, says one Wilts producer.

Incomplete milk removal from the udder is the key cause of mastitis in dairy cows, believes Stuart Knowlden, who manages a 110-cow autumn calving herd at Easton Farm, Devizes.

This is based on more than four years of observations in his search to eradicate mastitis since taking on the herd. "What happens during the three hours in the milking parlour each day influences mastitis incidence rates," he says.

Four years ago, somatic cell counts of less than 100,000/ml were being achieved, but this was at great expense with high antibiotic use and the hidden cost of dumping milk. In addition, mastitis incidence was high at more than 85 cases/110 cows, he says.

Mr Knowlden felt the problem was due to his reliance on antibiotic use. Antibiotics were not preventing mastitis, with more than 60% of treated cows having repeat cases.

As a result, management changes to control infection were introduced. "The first was to implement a strict milking routine, including early mastitis detection, sanitised teat wiping and teat spraying to minimise spread during milking.

"Mastitis can be detected in four ways, udder hardness during teat wiping, clots observed during teat stripping, when examining in-line filters and the master filter."

Housing was the next area tackled because it is a major source of infection, he adds. Only clean straw is used for bedding, which is now stored undercover. Mucking out yards was also carried out fortnightly instead of monthly, but there was no reduction in mastitis.

This suggests that bugs causing mastitis were already present in the udder and a trigger factor, such as stress, led to mastitis. He believes incomplete milk letdown is the likely trigger.

"Moving to a longer milking interval of 12 hours to improve milk letdown was found to reduce mastitis. An additional benefit was a 10% boost in milk yield due to the shorter milking time, which meant cows have more time to eat."

But this interval is awkward when milking cows 365 days a year. Therefore, an interval of 11 and 13 hours was implemented as a compromise, says Mr Knowlden.

Despite carrying out all these strategies, there were still a number of mastitis cases, which prompted Mr Knowlden to consider using homeopathy in the form of a commercially available udder cream.

"It contains essential oils and other plant extracts, which have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. When applied at the first sign of mastitis symptoms, these ingredients will help stimulate blood flow and milk letdown."

Cream is applied to each cow every other day after milking whether she has signs of mastitis or not. Cases of mastitis are treated by stripping out the infected quarter and applying the cream twice a day until clear, says Mr Knowlden.

He has not used antibiotics since last summer. As a result, bulk tank somatic cell counts have averaged 102,167/ml since last July and there have only been 14 cases of mastitis/100 cows during the last six months.

"Homeopathy works in harmony with the cows immune system cutting the need for antibiotics."

Many people are sceptical, he says, but when the cream treatment was withdrawn for 12 days during December, milk yields fell by 300 litres, somatic cell counts rose and there were nine cases of mastitis. Milk yield and somatic cell counts were restored to original levels after cream treatment was resumed, he says. &#42

What happens during the three hours in the milking parlour each day influences mastitis rates, says Stuart Knowlden.

&#8226 Even milking interval.

&#8226 Herbal cream.

&#8226 Antibiotics not needed.