Many herds have either just started spring calving or are just about to, and in many cases that will be in wet & muddy conditions.

For each cow, the calving period (2 weeks before calving until 2 weeks after) is the highest risk period for new mastitis infections, and wet conditions significantly increase that risk of mastitis.

Most new mastitis infections in this calving period are likely to be environmental (commonly Strep uberis), and for this infection to occur, the teat must come into contact with contaminated material (generally mud and/or faeces).

The cow's natural defence mechanisms are already compromised in freshly calved cows & heifers by swollen, hard teats, and are then further compromised in wet conditions by mud & faeces on these teats.

We have recently been working with our clients to develop comprehensive strategies to reduce this risk, and two key risk elements have cropped up regularly that we think are worth thinking about on any farm.


1. Hygiene at the first milking

Whilst pre-milking teat preparation is not routinely used in most Australian herds, there is good evidence that targeted use can be of significant benefit.

One such case is in freshly calved cows & heifers, especially in wet, muddy conditions.

Washing & drying all fresh cows' and heifers' teats at the first milking achieves several goals -

  • Removal of contamination from the teat surface before milking.
  • The washing action contributes to much better "let down" in both cows & heifers.
  • Post milking teat spray will be better able to contact & kill bacteria on the teat surface immediately after milking.
  • The emollient in your teat disinfectant will be able to get direct contact with teat skin to aid skin condition in these fresh cows & heifers with sensitive, swollen skin.

Drying teats after washing is very important, because cups going onto wet teats will likely lead to cup crawl and teat congestion - just what you don't want!

This short routine will take less than a minute for most cows, yet will result in these fresh cows milking quicker and cleaner, and will also substantially reduce the risk of infection.

Here's a link for some hints on easy washing & drying - "Wash & Dry"


2. Milking routine

If you milk fresh cows "on the bucket", then unless your dairy is already a low line, you will have "converted" to a low line for these cows.

This means you will be milking them at a higher vacuum than normal. Last week we measured the difference in one dairy – cows "on the bucket" had a mean claw vacuum about 8 kPa higher than cows being milked normally!

Which cows would you least like to milk at a much higher vacuum than normal? The fresh cows & heifers, of course!!

Two options to consider are:

  1. Milk these cows last in the normal fashion when the vat has been disconnected. Flush & disinfect the cluster after the main milking and prior to cupping up a fresh cow.
  2. As a compromise, if you do use "the bucket", make very sure that you DO NOT OVERMILK THESE COWS!  Don't wander off to do other jobs whilst they are milking – stay close enough to remove cups as soon as they have finished!

Whilst these practices are relatively simple to implement, there are likely to be a number of other factors that could be increasing the risk of mastitis at and after calving on your farm.

If you would like a strategy to reduce the risk of mastitis at calving, the fee for a Dairy Focus Calving Strategy discussion is less than the cost of one clinical case of mastitis, so give us a call now before it is too late.

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