Environmental Mastitis Prevention 101

When clinical mastitis occurs, Dr. Tikofsky recommends taking a milk sample, culturing and waiting 24 hours for results before treating. ( John Maday )

Battling environmental mastitis is ongoing in the dairy industry. The consequences can be costly, with losses incurred from milk discard, added labor and antibiotics, while treatment success varies based on the pathogen.¹ Producers can take steps toward control by focusing on the following:

Cleanliness – “Environmental pathogens can be found anywhere manure comes in contact with the udder,” said Dr. Linda Tikofsky, senior associate director of dairy professional veterinary services, Boehringer Ingelheim. You can minimize mastitis risk with facility practices such as:

  • Providing an ample supply of dry, clean bedding that is frequently groomed;
  • Refraining from overcrowding and/or overgrazing;
  • Managing water tanks, feeding areas and walkways to eliminate standing water or excess manure that might splash onto the udder; and
  • Keeping barns well ventilated to limit heat stress and the spread of bacteria.

Vaccination – Vaccination can help reduce the severity and incidence of coliform mastitis. “I recommend vaccinating all cows at dry-off, then giving a booster vaccine two to four weeks later,” said Dr. Tikofsky. “If you’re struggling with an outbreak or it’s simply more convenient, you can also vaccinate the entire herd at once. Just don’t forget to give a booster. The vaccine you choose should have a short meat withdrawal and provide protection against E. coli, endotoxemia caused by E. coli and Salmonella typhimurium. Work with your veterinarian to set a protocol in place.”

Dry-cow treatment – “Dry-cow therapy is a great way to control both contagious and environmental infections,” noted Dr. Tikofsky. “Antibiotic treatment during the dry period generally results in higher cure rates than during lactation, while teat sealants are shown to aid in preventing new infections,” she added. “Make sure you are using a teat sealant with a color that’s easy to distinguish from milk during removal at calving time.”

Proper milking procedure – Even though environmental pathogens can be contracted outside the parlor, milking management is still an important aspect of prevention. Ensure the parlor routine includes fore-stripping, pre-dipping and properly drying teats. This will maintain teat health and decrease exposure to potential pathogens. Keeping the milking equipment functioning properly will also maintain teat health. Dr. Tikofsky encourages the checking of equipment, vacuum levels and pulsators at least twice a year by a trained technician.

Record keeping – Records can help producers easily track potential factors contributing to a mastitis outbreak, as well as the effectiveness of current treatment protocols. “Ideally, one person would be in charge of keeping records on a dairy software program,” said Dr. Tikofsky. “These records can help producers make thoughtful, effective management decisions.” Protocols and treatment records should be reviewed with your veterinarian at least annually.

Even with the best practices in place, mastitis infections will still happen. When clinical mastitis occurs, Dr. Tikofsky recommends taking a milk sample, culturing and waiting 24 hours for results before treating. “Culturing can be done without a negative effect on cure rate or animal welfare in cases with mild or moderate mastitis,” she asserted. “If you think you’re experiencing an environmental mastitis outbreak, work with your veterinarian to identify and address the cause.”

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