Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Practical steps to lower mastitis in the herd

Finola McCoy

As the saying goes, "prevention is better than cure". However, in order to know how best to prevent mastitis, you need to know how new infections happen in your herd, and why.

Very simply, mastitis is inflammation of the mammary gland caused by bacteria which have entered the udder through the teat canal. However, understanding the risk areas on your farm, such as where and how exposure to these bacteria occurs, is often where the challenge lies. To answer questions such as these, gathering the relevant information is key.

The following steps will help you to prevent new infections.

1.Sample all clinical cases

Knowing what bacteria are responsible for causing mastitis in your herd is essential if you want to take appropriate action to prevent new infections.

Should you focus on the practices within the parlour, to reduce the spread of contagious bacteria? Or does more attention need to be given to the environment, as the primary source of bacteria?

While new research tells us that not all bacterial strains can be strictly classified in the traditional 'contagious' or 'environmental' sense, knowing what mastitis pathogens are responsible for infection in your herd is an essential part of the jigsaw.

Culturing milk from animals with clinical mastitis early in the season, and not just from animals with chronic or repeat infections later in the year, provides more useful information on your herd.

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For example, Teagasc research carried out in 2013 on clinical mastitis samples from Irish milk recording herds, collected over a 12-month period, showed that although Staph aureus was the most common pathogen identified, it was closely followed by Strep uberis and E. coli. So don't assume that Staph aureus is the only bacterial challenge within your herd.

Remember milk samples taken for culture can be frozen for up to four months, without any impact on most major mastitis pathogens.

So a practical tip is to sample all clinical cases this spring, and put the samples in the freezer with the cows' details on the bottle. In this way, if the number of clinical cases becomes a concern, there is an invaluable bank of data instantly available for investigation.

Remember to take samples in a sterile fashion, before any antibiotic treatment starts. A step-by-step guide to taking milk samples in a sterile fashion is contained in the CellCheck Farm Guidelines for Mastitis Control, available to download from

2.Start milk recording early in the year

Do you milk record in the first month of lactation? If not, start this year. With the new CellCheck Farm Summary Report, milk recording cows within 60 days of calving will provide a measure of how effective the dry cow treatment has been in your herd. It will also highlight if new infections during the dry period are a problem.

3.Mind those heifers

Heifers are often assumed to have a low risk of mastitis when they join the herd. However, recent Teagasc research has shown that 23pc of Irish heifers milk recorded in the first month of lactation had a somatic cell count (SCC) of greater than 200,000cells/ml. In fact, 13pc had an SCC of greater than 400,000 cells/ml.

The same research also demonstrated that heifers with a first recording >400,000 cells/mL produced 864kg less milk over their lifetime. Early milk recording will help identify any issues with heifers, allowing early intervention.

For more information on udder health at all stages of lactation, see the CellCheck Farm Guidelines for Mastitis Control, which is also available online at

Irish Independent