Checking for heifers with blind quarters is necessary

Checking teats and quarters in young heifers is necessary this summer as vets are reporting an increasing number of heifers calving down with blind quarters.

This is the advice of David Black from Paragon Vet Group, Cumbria, who says the problem is a low-grade summer mastitis contracted in the first grazing season.

Traditional summer mastitis is easy to spot because sick heifers usually stand away from the group, stop grazing, lose condition and have a visibly swollen quarter. But heifers calving down with at least one blind quarter are on farms where there has been no detectable summer mastitis during their first grazing season, says Mr Black.

“I suspect summer mastitis hasn’t caused illness, just damage to the quarter and nothing shows up until the clusters are put on. Cows can compensate with milk yield when they lose a quarter, but it’s a disaster if you rear a heifer like this,” he says.

Sporadic

Gloucestershire vet Roger Blowey reports an incidence of 1% of heifers calving with blind quarters, but evidence is still anecdotal and cases sporadic, adds Mr Black.

“In some herds I have seen one in 10 heifers with blind quarters, but sometimes the milking operator just thinks the teat is blocked. The udder may appear normal, bagging up as usual, but there is no milk tissue in the quarter and it’s not functional.”

Blind quarters can be an inherited condition and it’s recognised heifers sucking each other when young can lead to summer mastitis. “The damage is probably occurring when heifers are outside with the infection developing in the tissue,” says Mr Black.

In other cases of blind quarters the teat feels normal, acfording to Mr Blowey. “Often you can push a canular to the top of the teat, then it hits a thick membrane and there is milk in the quarter, but it can’t get out. This is a congenital deformity and there is no clinical illness,” he says.

Apart from the lack of four fully functioning quarters, Mr Blowey points out milking a three-quartered animal is clumsy.

“The milking unit doesn’t hang evenly and it needs a proper bung for the spare cluster. Tucking it around the other three unbalances the unit and risks sucking in air, which can lead to teat end compaction.”

With something that’s hard to find it means prevention is necessary and fly control may be the option to avoid a disappointment at calving. The sheep head fly is responsible for irritating teats, which then allows bacteria to enter the udder. “Keep stock in open fields where there are no flies, or housing sheep during periods of peak fly numbers can help reduce cases,” suggests Mr Blowey.

Pour-on

Mr Black strongly recommends starting early with a pour-on fly control and continuing regularly throughout the season. “Don’t wait until you see lots of flies to start treatment, it’s best to get in early as it stops the life cycle and prevents numbers exploding. Even though you don’t see clinical cases of summer mastitis, keep heifers away from wooded areas and damp swampy grazing,” he says.

Looking for any unevenness in the udder is also something Mr Black recommends. “When you spot something, feel for heat or inflammation. Heifers can milk on three teats, but you don’t want to spend £2000 on rearing something that’s running on three quarters.”

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