Animal agriculture is becoming more and more advanced each and every year and unfortunately, even though dairy producers are more efficient and producing a higher quality product than ever before, remaining profitable has become even more challenging. Therefore, in order to maximize cow health and milk production and to minimize treatment cost and milk discard, I encourage producers to consider implementing a pre-planned mastitis treatment protocol.
The first step in any good treatment plan is effective identification and accurate diagnosis. Producers should take time to observe for clinical signs of mastitis at milking such as swollen, hot quarters or sick cows. Pre-stripping allows for visual inspection of milk prior to milking and also has the added advantage of stimulating oxytocin release and improving milk letdown. California Mastitis Testing (CMT) aids in identifying affected quarters in suspect cows. DHI data and meticulous on-the-farm records can help to identify problem cows as well. Finally, milk culture allows for organism identification and antibiotic sensitivity. Culture results (often available a few days after initial treatment) and individual cow records can help to identify those cows that may self-cure, require extended therapy or need culling. Establishing or studying a history of milk culture results can be helpful in determining what antibiotic choices are most appropriate for initial treatment, and what management areas need to be improved upon.
A typical mastitis treatment protocol involves assigning a clinical score to cows identified with clinical mastitis. Treatment is then tailored to the severity of clinical signs. For example, a grade 1 cow may have flakes in her milk but no other clinical signs. I would recommend first obtaining a sample for culture (prior to any treatment); then treating with intramammary antibiotics for at least two days or until a clinical cure is achieved or culture results indicate a change. A grade 2 cow would be a cow with abnormal milk, a swollen and painful quarter but is not systemically sick. A good treatment protocol would indicate obtaining a milk sample first followed by intramammary antibiotic therapy, systemic anti-inflammatory therapy and potentially a topical udder ointment. A grade 3 cow would be one that shows all of the fore mentioned signs but that is also systemically sick (often with a fever of >103° F). These cows not only need intramammary treatment but also systemic antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and supportive care such as IV fluids and calcium.
Finally, the old adage, ‘prevention is the best treatment’ cannot be overemphasized with mastitis in a dairy herd. Cows with mastitis not only cost money in terms of treatment but also produce less milk, are slower to breed back and are more likely to encounter other health problems. So when you talk to your vet about implementing a pre-planned mastitis treatment protocol for your dairy, also consider ways to improve your prevention strategies and maximize production and profitability.
Darren Loula, DVM, is owner of Christian County Veterinary Service, LLC, a mobile large animal vet clinic.