Controlling mastitis is vital from first calving
Last year I met dairy farmers who had to dry off dairy cows in September. They did this purely to keep the overall geometric SCC of the dairy herd under the magical 400,000 level.
For one reason or another, SCC levels in these herds had got totally out of control during last year. And it wasn't as if any of these farmers had changed their management practices during that year. The problem took on a life of its own and was made worse by the stress placed on cows as a result of the bad weather.
Controlling mastitis is a costly business. Dr Finola McCoy, who deals with the Euro Milk Project, has calculated that the average cost of dealing with mastitis issues among her 23 farmers is €30,000.
Mastitis is a serious cost issue on Irish dairy farms and, right from the time the first cow calved this year, we need to be on top of this one.
The first critical period for infection-spread the cow has to deal with is in the two-week period before she calves down. Her udder is beginning to fill with milk as she approaches calving. This puts pressure on the udder and the cow may even begin to leak milk in the immediate pre-calving period.
This is a real danger period as the possibility of dirt and infection gaining entry through the teat canal is increased. If infection gets in here the possibility of the cow calving down with clinical mastitis is increased. And when this happens, the possibility of that cow infecting five to six of her comrades in the milking parlour also rises.
The target for clinical cases of mastitis in the first month of lactation is five for every 100 cows. This is a difficult target to achieve, but it sets the bench mark.