Your cows are nothing short of professional athletes, using their talents to transform water and feed into nutritious milk. Aside from trips to the parlor and constant body maintenance, cows must be ready to play defense against tough competitors like mastitis. Luckily, there are ways you can help keep each cow healthy and performing at their best.
Excellent cow comfort and facility hygiene go a long way in reducing environmental mastitis. Joe Gillespie, D.V.M., Boehringer Ingelheim, shares the importance of having strong parlor procedures as well. Perfecting the following steps in your milking parlor can help mitigate the risk of introducing environmental mastitis at milking and reduce the spread of contagious mastitis:
1.) Proper hygiene of the person milking. Wearing gloves is an easy way to mitigate the risk of moving contaminants and bacteria on the milker’s hand from animal to animal. Remaining mindful that the parlor is a high-risk environment for passing along infections can set up any milker for success.
2.) Proper hygiene of the udder prior to milking. Take these steps to clean and prepare an udder for the milking machine:
- The application of a pre-dip is a good first step, sanitizing the exterior of each teat and killing most bacteria.
- Next, fore-stripping is important to stimulate milk let-down and provide an opportunity for milkers to check for clinical signs of mastitis.
- Lastly, taking a clean towel to dry teats thoroughly and remove any lingering debris and/or pre-dip prior to milking is crucial. Excess water is the enemy in the parlor, spreading bacteria and ultimately contaminating the teat end.
3.) Avoid faulty equipment. Before each milking shift begins, double-check to make sure the vacuum is set correctly. We want to avoid squawking units that could let outside air into the rest of the milking system.
“That unwanted air gets pulled into a back-end system and forces the milk to flow the wrong direction,” explained Dr. Gillespie. “If milk containing pathogens is pushed back into the teat canal, an uninfected udder could be exposed to those pathogens through the milking equipment.”
4.) After milking is complete, apply a post-dip sanitizer. It takes somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes for a teat end to completely seal. A sanitizing agent can protect the teat end and canal during that interim period after milking.
“By reducing cows’ exposure to pathogens, we can hopefully keep both infection and somatic cell count down, helping the cows capture the production potential that they have,” summarized Dr. Gillespie.
Prevention outside of the parlor
Even after setting up the best prevention management, mastitis infections are still going to happen. Tools like short-duration therapy and on-farm culturing can help get your sick cows back into the milking herd as soon as possible. About 60% of the time, a mastitis case will typically resolve without treatment.1 With the help of your veterinarian, on-farm culturing will differentiate those mastitis cases that will benefit from antibiotics, keeping you from wasting time and assets on a cow that could clear the infection on her own. When a treatment is necessary, the two-day or three-day treatment regimen of short-duration therapy will effectively eliminate the mastitis infection in less time than the common five-day treatment regimen.
Dry-off is another opportunity to manage mastitis. “One of the ways we can prevent new infections is by using tools like internal teat sealants,” said Dr. Gillespie. “This allows us to seal the teat canal so that no pathogen can get in.” This way, when she freshens, the cow will hopefully be mastitis free and ready to visit the parlor regularly.
It’s important to keep cows ready for game day and healthy during their off-season. With consistent evaluation of parlor protocols and guidance from your veterinarian, you can build the ultimate defense against mastitis, keeping your cows performing their best.
1 Green MJ, Green LE, Medley GF, et al. Influence of dry-period bacterial intramammary infection on clinical mastitis in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2002;85(10):2589–2599.
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