Teat sealants best combined in three-part plan, say vets

Increased pressure on vets and farmers to reduce intramammary antibiotics use in favour of a blanket teat sealant programme should come as part of a holistic three-step health plan.

This is according to leading mastitis experts reacting to two recent industry announcements on dry cow therapy that represent a sea change in mastitis control.

First came Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (Ruma) targets to cut intramammary antibiotic dry cow tubes by 20% and increase the use of teat sealants by 40% by 2020 based on 2015 sales figures.

Then, earlier this year, leading European veterinarians released a consensus statement recommending farmers administer an internal teat sealant (ITS) at drying off “to all cows on all farms”.

Three-part plan

But despite clear targets from the industry, farmers should make sure three key things are in place before looking to cut back on their levels of antibiotic dry cow therapy (ADCT).

See also: Search Video: 15 key steps to achieve best-practice drying-off protocol

Dr James Breen, University of Nottingham and Quality Milk Management Services, says addressing these three factors can help a farm increase the number of cows receiving teat sealants alone.

  1. Aseptic infusion technique: Teat sealants must be administered clean or they risk introducing more pathogens into the udder. Surgical spirit and a new piece of cotton wool should be used to clean the udder before administering ITS.
  2. Environmental management: Work on building design, bedding material and dry cow housing to minimise opportunistic infection through environmental mastitis. Some farms are still focusing on the milking herd and need to look at dry cow environments as well.
  3. Monitor data: Look back at milk recordings and records of clinical mastitis and cell count levels. Consider these two metrics
  • If more than 10% of cows are calving down with a high somatic cell count (SCC) above 200,000 cells/ml, then dry cow management might not be optimal.
  • No more than one in 12 animals should be developing clinical mastitis in the first 30 days of lactation.

Defining a high-risk cow

Mastitis control plans should administer teat sealants to all cows on the farm and then treat any infected cow with dry-cow antibiotics.

Dr Breen advises the following guidelines for defining a high-risk cow or herd that could require ADCT.

  • If a cow has recorded an SCC of more than 200,000 cells/ml in one or more of the past three milk recordings prior to dry-off, she probably needs and would benefit from ADCT.
  • If a cow has had clinical mastitis in the past three months, she probably needs and would benefit from ADCT.
  • Herds that have a high bulk cell count (more than 200,000 cells/ml and/or more than 20% of their cows with a high cell count) may benefit from using a lower threshold (to be discussed with farm vet) when selecting cows for dry cow antibiotic as they are more high risk.

Timeline for action

With just two years left to hit Ruma reduction targets (measured using 2015 UK sales data), Dr Breen says some farms are ahead of the game, but others need to act soon.

“Some milk contracts have been pushing for selective dry cow therapy for some years now, with their own guidelines and constraints,” he adds.

Implications on farm

The effect antibiotics reduction targets have on farm will vary across individual herds, says veterinary surgeon John Whitwell, partner at Grace Lane Vets, Kirkby Moorside, North Yorkshire.

“Some farms are still blanket treating all cows with antibiotics tubes, and for years and years it has worked,” explains Mr Whitwell. “However, pressure is now on vets and farmers to take a blanket approach with teat sealants instead.”

He added that there shouldn’t be any cost barriers to adopting blanket ITS and selective dry cow therapy in terms of buying more teat sealants, which cost about £2-£3 a time and are comparable to antibiotics.

“This is buttons compared to a single mastitis case, which typically costs into the hundreds of pounds and more if you have to cull the cow – that will buy a lot of tubes.”

Boehringer vet adviser Kath Aplin said: “It has long been established that the mammary gland is highly susceptible to infection in the dry period and that the majority of clinical mastitis in early lactation is picked up during the dry period.

“Moving towards selective ADCT may not be appropriate immediately for all producers. However, the use of ITS for all cows on all farms will reduce new infection rates, assisting in the drive towards improved udder health and reduced antibiotics use.”