“We have to ask for practical use, is it helpful? Does the farmer know more after consulting the system than he or she did before? Of course, we want perfect sensor systems, but we have to use the ones we have while we wait,” said Gunnar Dalen, of TINE Dairies SA, Norway, during the International Dairy Federation DISARM webinar How can the management of clinical and subclinical mastitis be supported by sensor systems?
Since mastitis has health and economic consequences for both farmers and cows, the presenters discussed how improved sensor systems can help detect clinical mastitis. By doing so, Dr. Henk Hogeveen hopes farmers can save on labor, support dairy management practices, improve farm profitability, and enhance sustainability. Finding a sensor system with the right sensitivity and specificity is important.
Does it work?
From a clinical standpoint, sensitivity is the ability of a test to correctly identify cows with mastitis. Meanwhile, specificity is the sensor’s ability to correctly identify cows without mastitis.
Challenges with sensor systems include factors like a short time window or that milk may appear normal at a stage when general conditions are already compromised.
Current practices include prestripping and checking on elevated Dairy Herd Information Association (DHIA) somatic cell count numbers (SCC), which Dalen reports has a 65% sensitivity and specificity percentage. However, various sensor systems aim to replace and improve upon current approaches, which with frequent testing and amounts of data have reached only 70% sensitivity and 80% specificity.
“We believe one key aspect to utilizing these systems as they are is to be more aware of the detection moment,” Dalen said. He suggests adjusting the sensor system for different detection moments, such as during lactation.
The International Dairy Federation (IDF) presenting committee aims for sensor systems that detect subclinical or mild mastitis during lactation with a sensitivity of 80% and specificity of 99.5%, within a time window of seven days.
“Alas, the optimal methods of intervention upon the detection of subclinical or milk mastitis will be subject to farm specific circumstances and local regulations,” Dalen said.
He suggests that farmers use secondary testing, responsible use of antibiotics, and immediate action at dry-off to work hand in hand with sensor systems.
The committee concluded that developing sensor systems for different mastitis systems will provide potential benefits, but more work needs to be done.
About the future
“We believe as a group that if we go that direction in the future, that it will lead to improved udder health — and better use of sensor systems, and better support of farm management — including prudent use of antibiotics and reduced losses due to mastitis,” said Dr. Henk Hogeveen of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“However, research and experience should show where these types of things are possible. We believe it is possible, we’ve been thinking about it as well, but we haven’t proved it yet,” said Hogeveen.
The author and her husband own and operate a sixth-generation dairy farm near St Johns, Mich.