Recent milking time visits to a number of different dairy sheds have reminded me that “normal” means different things to different people.
The most common cause of mastitis around calving, both clinical cases and new subclinical infections, is Streptococcus uberis (Strep uberis).
This is an environmental organism passed in the faeces of cattle, so the major source of these mastitis infections on the farm is from contamination of teats with faeces and mud.
Whilst Strep uberis is also capable of spreading from cow to cow during milking, new infections around calving are far more likely to be from the environment.
The dry-off process has a huge impact on the risk of mastitis infections around calving, but there are still key actions that can make a major difference to the risk of mastitis.
Most of these actions cost very little cash – it is nearly all about managing the transition process.
1. Minimise faecal contamination
The amount of faecal contamination in the calving area will be directly proportional to the number of animals in the area and how long they are in there.
Have you got clean areas for calving that have not been grazed for the last few weeks?
Can you regularly move the springers to a fresh clean area as the current area becomes too contaminated (more than two cow pats per square metre)?
Can you minimise the number of springers in the calving area to those very close to calving, so numbers are lower and they are there for less time?
2. What is your strategy to deal with cows that drip milk before calving?
After dry-off, cows form a natural keratin teat plug to seal and protect the teat canal during the dry period. The use of an internal teat sealant at dry-off significantly adds to this protective seal.
However, as a cow approaches calving, if that seal is lost and the cow begins to drip milk, the teat canal is now high risk for the entry of bacteria.
Cows on the point of calving with large, tight udders that are dripping milk should usually be brought in and milked twice daily. Discuss with your vet whether anything can be done to ensure these cows calve as soon as possible.
3. How do you handle cows and especially heifers with udder oedema?
Cows and especially heifers with udder oedema (flag) usually have very hard swollen teats which are at a higher risk of infection, and they are also liable to not let-down properly due to the discomfort.
Discuss with your vet whether there are options for treatment to quickly reduce the flag in these animals, and to enhance milk let-down.
Be patient and ensure milk let-down has occurred before milking them, and be very careful not to overmilk these animals, especially if you milk them “on the bucket” as in this case, the vacuum they experience is likely to be higher than cows milked normally.
4. Milk freshly calved cows and heifers as soon as possible (preferably within 12 hours)
The sooner a freshly calved animal is in the dairy being milked, the sooner you have a chance to check her, and the sooner you fully milk her out, the greater the chance of flushing out any recently arrived bacteria.
The calf will never achieve this goal for you, and the sooner you have the calf brought in, the sooner you can administer colostrum to that calf if necessary.
We strongly recommend that all freshly calved cows and heifers have their teats washed and dried at least for the first milking.
This removes contamination from teats, causes effective milk let-down, gives better milking characteristics and finally, allows the post-milking teat spray and emollient to access teat skin properly and do its job. And it only costs a minute of your time.
Consider adding a little extra emollient to your teat spray during wet, muddy conditions to enhance teat skin condition.
5. Minimise the exposure of fresh cows to environmental bacteria after calving
Recently calved cows are amongst the highest risk cows for new mastitis infections - especially in wet, muddy conditions.
These cows should be in a fresh, clean environment, yet we regularly see them sent to the little fresh cow paddock beside the dairy for their colostrum period. Whilst this area may have been clean at the start of calving, it rapidly becomes one of the most contaminated areas on the farm – don’t put your highest risk cows in the highest risk area.
6. Detect clinical cases early and ensure milk is suitable for the vat
All freshly calved cows should be checked for mastitis at every milking in the colostrum period. The sooner you detect a clinical case, the sooner you can treat it, and the higher the chance of cure.
Ensure all cows and heifers have the full colostrum period of eight milkings or four days, and be especially observant of withholding periods – the last thing anybody needs in this current industry environment is a residue issue.
And finally, if you have found three or more clinical cases in the last 50 cows that have calved, it is time to do something, as something needs to change. Usually, the best place to start is to change the calving area to something cleaner.