Nov. 15 2012 01:08 PM

Seven steps that allow you to establish an effective mastitis control program.

by Amanda Smith, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

Over time, somatic cell count (SCC) levels on dairies in the U.S. have gradually dropped. With time though, it is likely that a 400,000 SCC will become a nationwide reality. Ken Leslie, with the University of Guelph, spoke on managing udder health and mastitis at the Penn State Nutrition Conference, which was held this week. "To keep herd SCC below this level, it is necessary to target an SCC of 200,000 cells/mL if your co-op uses an individual day or less than 250,000 if it is based on a mean score from three counts," said Leslie. He also noted that there are seven well-documented habits of a highly effective mastitis control program. These habits include:

1. Set realistic herd goals – Each herd needs to establish goals for both bulk milk SCC and rates of clinical mastitis. These goals should include stated alarm points, a list of priorities, investments that need to be made and a commitment to achieving your goal.

2. Identify cows with high somatic cells counts – Using DHI-based SCC data and other sources of information, cows with (and at risk for) high SCC need to be identified. Generally speaking, these cows: have calved recently, had a clinical mastitis bout, have repeated elevated monthly SCCs and have known chronic infections.

3. Analyze your herd data to identify the strong and weak points in your program – On a regular a basis, at least every 2 to 3 months, herd udder health data should be analyzed to assess your situation. The data should include individual cow SCC patterns, clinical mastitis patterns and the on-going infection profile of the herd.

4. Perform a risk assessment of your current mastitis control strategy – Use a validated risk assessment protocol for mastitis control on a regular basis. This process will help you identify and rank known mastitis risk factors at work in the herd.

5. Improve the weakest link in your mastitis control program – Using the analysis of herd data and the results of the risk assessment, your management team should identify and establish a plan to attack the weakest link in your established control plan.

6. Develop adequate monitoring procedure – Using individual cow SCC data, culture results from clinical cases and regular bulk tank monitoring, along with routine herd data such as clinical mastitis and culling justification, is essential to maintain an effective control plan.

7. Strive for continuous improvement of milk quality and mastitis – The six habits outlined above need to be implemented on a continuous basis.