Good hygiene in the cubicle is critical at this time of year. Cows will soon be springing up to calve, which means the udder will begin to fill up with colostrum. The key period is two weeks before calving.
Clean, dry cubicle beds are an essential requirement during the two weeks before calving and, indeed, for the length of time the calved cow remains indoors. Mastitis is the enemy here and good hygiene is required to keep it at bay.
If cows calve down with mastitis, several areas need to be assessed. Firstly, was the drying-off process carried out correctly? Was a long-acting tube used? Was a teat sealer used? Dry cow tubes may have lost their ability to protect the udder in the past two weeks before calving.
One other group of animals -- in-calf heifers -- are about to calve down during this period and they have no outside protection at all from any pathogens in the immediate environment.
In-calf heifers don't have the protection of teat sealers when the udder begins to bag up. Therefore, hygiene needs to be at a high level during this time.
Cows calving down with mastitis are a sure sign that all was not well with hygiene, either on the cubicle bed or the passage way, directly behind the cubicle in the two weeks prior to calving.
The number of clinical cases of mastitis that occur in the first month of calving is a good indicator of how hygiene standards are. The benchmark is five clinical cases of mastitis for every 100 cows during this period.
What hygiene programme should one have to ensure diseases such as mastitis are kept to the minimum?
Let's look at the operation of scrapers first. At Curtin's Farm in Moorepark, the scrapers only run four times a day. However, some dairy farmers I spoke to say they run them for at least six times a day and maybe even eight times a day.
One farmer uses the following times for operating scrapers:
These seven times ensure that a cow's feet will be clean and minimise the amount of dung they will take up onto the cubicle beds.
And what of the cubicle beds? Clean, dry cubicle beds are essential in the fight against mastitis. If they have rubber mats, all the better, and they will also be easier to clean.
At Curtin's, the cubicle beds are hand-scraped twice a day. They are also dusted with Agri-Cal lime. Half the length of the cubicle is done. This ensures the cubicles are dry.
A farmer I spoke to also hand-scrapes the cubicle beds twice a day, but instead of Agri-Cal lime, he uses a mixture of two-thirds sawdust and one-third hydrated lime. He puts the mixture in four five-gallon drums and spreads it on the 120 cubicles. I know farmers say that hydrated lime damages cows' teats, but this farmer has been using it now for several years.
What about using disinfectant sprays on cubicle beds? This is a practice that I see recommended more and more. Certainly, the use of a disinfectant will kill any bacteria that are present on the cubicle.
Have they a place? In a situation where hygiene practices are not good, then they will help the situation, but they certainly are not a substitute for good hygiene practices.
Finally, have you decided if you will wear rubber gloves at milking times? Why? Dirt gets into the crevices in hands during milking time or it may be there before milking time, and this dirt is passed from cow to cow, making the likelihood of mastitis infection greater.
It is much easier to disinfect gloved hands. The disinfectant is also much more effective and so the disease link between the milker and the cow is broken. Play the hygiene card.