7 tips to help improve mastitis treatment

Dairy farmers should review and tighten mastitis treatment programmes, as figures show poor cure rates on UK farms, according to vet Kath Aplin.

Speaking at a webinar on mastitis, Ms Aplin, vet adviser for Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, said treatment routines could be improved.

See also: How a farmer slashed milking times and improved udder health

In the UK only about 40% of mastitis cases are followed by three cell counts below 200,000/ml and have no recurrence of the disease.

Despite this low cure rate, farms often failed to review protocols and continued mastitis treatment as a routine only.

Ms Aplin urged farmers at a recent Women in Dairy webinar, organised by Zoetis, to review protocols to ensure they are fit for purpose.

The aims must be to optimise a cost-effective mastitis control, successfully treat cases and reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance and bulk tank failures, she said.

And she offered seven areas where routines can be honed to better meet these targets and shape an effective treatment programme:

1 Record keeping, monitoring and reviews

It’s vital to know what level of acute cases are occurring and recurring in a herd.

To do this, accurate records should be kept to log incidences of disease and cell counts.

Regularly reviewing the information will highlight any changes and trends that might point to a failing somewhere within the control programme.

The figures should be analysed with the farm vet to help target problem areas and devise a more effective strategy.

2 Detection

The sooner a cow is treated, the greater the chance antibiotics will work and take effect more quickly. That means cow welfare is better, the risk of antibiotic resistance is lower, production is less disrupted and costs are minimised.

Staff should be trained carefully to recognise heat in the udder and clots when stripping out teats, long before tissue becomes inflamed and hardened.

If more than one person is involved in milking, a carefully worked protocol for detection should be shared and adhered to.

In robotic units changes in conductivity can flag up a problem, but this should act as a guide for further inspection of the cow.

Conductivity fluctuations may point to another issue and treating cows with antibiotics on this alone risks overuse and high costs.

3 Tube insertion

No matter how long someone has been tubing teats, it is worth checking that it is being carried out carefully and correctly.

Great care is needed to get it right, as the keratin teat tissue is sensitive and can be damaged easily, adding to the problem. If there is a choice between a long or short nozzle on the tube, it is better to opt for the shorter nozzle.

Again this is less likely to damage the teat lining.Teats must be scrupulously cleaned before the tube is inserted or it may introduce a new infection.

A teat end that is clean enough for milking isn’t necessarily clean enough for treating.

4 Anti-inflammatories

Mastitis causes severe pain and research has shown that discomfort begins early in the infection development. This may show up in reduced feed intakes even before stripping out reveals clots.

Evidence suggests anti-inflammatory treatments can help on several levels. Reducing pain and suffering is a welfare necessity, while tissue that is less inflamed is more receptive to antibiotic treatments, increasing their effectiveness. A knock-on effect of less pain is improved fertility as hormone cycles are less disrupted.

5 Antibiotic injection

This is worth discussing with the farm vet for persistent and repeat cases. The argument against the practice is a systemic antibiotic uses larger quantities of a drug, whereas a tube is more targeted in the area of the infection.

6 Sampling

A number of bacteria may cause the disease, including E coli, S aureus or S uberis. Identifying the bacterium responsible, through sampling on a particular unit, can help shape a more targeted treatment programme.

However, sampling must be surgically clean. If contaminated samples are offered, they are useless as an indication of what is causing the disease.

7 Treatment length

Because the various causal bacteria have differing lengths of persistence, it may be possible to alter treatment lengths. However, the advice on treatment length is not definitive and products may recommend treatment times of up to five days.

It is important both to adhere to the label recommendations for a particular product and to discuss with the farm vet which product fits the management routine.

Some are used at each milking, while others are daily. It is important to fit treatment lengths and frequencies with staff rotas and milking regime, so all of the factors should be discussed with the farm vet.