The key aim on any organic dairy farm should be to prevent mastitis infection, while reducing the use of antibiotic treatment, said Alastair Hayton, Synergy Farm Health, talking at a Livestock Health South East workshop.
But, alternative treatments should only be used in preference to conventional medicine if it is safe and effective to do so.
“The big debate is effectiveness,” Mr Hayton said. “Cow welfare is paramount. When using an alternative, ask yourself if it is working – look at cure rates and re-occurrence.
“When a third come back for re-treatment, it is not good for welfare or profitability.
“As an alternative, I would suggest frequent stripping five to six times a day. Cold hosing and application of udder mint can also help.”
But, homoeopathic treatments should be approached with caution. “I am not going to say it definitely doesn’t work, but there is no peer-reviewed trial evidence to show the efficacy of using homoeopathy in treating mastitis.”
Dry cows are most susceptible to mastitis infection, said vet Maarten Boers,
The Livestock Partnership. “The risk of new infection is 10 times higher in the dry period than during lactation,” he said.
“And infection during the dry period accounts for 60% of mastitis in the next lactation, with most infections occurring in the first three months after calving.”
Rotating dry cow paddocks has been identified as the one management strategy which is most effective in reducing mastitis picked up from the dry period, said Mr Hayton.
“Keep dry cows on a paddock for two weeks and then rest fields for four weeks.”
“Also, regularly moving ring feeders can help prevent poaching, another source of infection.”
There are also a number of steps organic farmers can take to control fly populations and summer mastitis, he said.
“Parasitic wasps are a good way of controlling fly populations on farm. The wasp predates the fly larvae and lays its eggs inside it. “
Wasps can be scattered in regions prone to supporting fly larvae, such as areas covered in dung.
“Citronella-based products are also good, but are not recommended in dairy herds, due to milk taint. Stockhom tar is also an effective preventative of summer mastitis.”
“But, if you are planning on using any non-authorised product topically, you should always consult your vet.”
Herdsman Jonathan Reeve is trying to eliminate antibiotic use on the 180-cow, organic dairy herd at Moore Farm, Cowdray Estate, West Sussex.
“Since January we have managed to reduce somatic cell counts from 300,000 cells/ml to 180,000 cells/ml without using antibiotics.”
But, there is no single fix for improving cell counts. “This has only been achieved by tackling a whole circle of things,” stressed Mr Reeve.
“Over the months we have addressed bedding, parlour routine and tail trimming as well as culled some high-SCC cows.
“When somatic cell counts were at their worst, we were using one scoop of shavings on the cubicles everyday, which simply wasn’t enough.”
The farm is now splitting one bale between four beds and liming once a week.
Skimping on bedding is a false economy, said Mr Hayton. “Although you will save on bedding costs, you will be hit hard with increased mastitis costs.”
At the same time, parlour routine has been improved to include a pre-dip and a post-barrier dip.
Mr Reeve has been using a 50:50 treatment of homeopathy and conventional medicine over the last year, and introduced homeopathy in January.
“I spray a mastitis remedy on to the vulva of infected cows twice a day at the first signs of mastitis. After four days it has cleared up.”
It is impossible to say whether homoeopathy is working here – cure rates could equally be due to natural cure rates independent of treatment, said Mr Hayton.
“I would say the other changes have been more influential to mastitis rates.”
“Some farmers have tried homeopathy and not got on. The key is to address all other factors influencing mastitis and ensure good animal welfare.”
Mr Reeve is also trying to reduce anitibiotic use at drying off. “I will be using an antibiotic on 10 out of 130 cows at drying off. This is significantly down on last year, when SCCs were a lot higher. Next year I hope not to use antibiotics at all and just use a teat sealant.”