Five key areas of mastitis risk

The arrival of rain and mud has created mastitis and cell count issues for some farms, whilst others are worried about the increased risk of mastitis, and how to reduce that risk.

However, this is NOT just about the mud and the environment - there are always several factors that contribute to the increased risk of mastitis in these environmental conditions.

At Dairy Focus we think of mastitis risk in terms of five key risk areas that need to be managed.

We then apply all of the relevant principles and guidelines from Countdown combined with our extensive experience to each of these areas of mastitis risk.

These areas are actually inter-dependant - that is why the Dairy Focus Mastitis Control System builds a comprehensive plan to cover all of these areas on each farm.

As an example, the milking process actually influences the risk of mastitis associated with the environment quite significantly.

Sub-optimal milking machine setup and/or milking routines which result in less than ideal teat end condition greatly increase the risk of environmental infections - especially when it is wet & muddy.

But it is more than that, because less than ideal teat end condition is actually made worse by wet, cold & windy weather as teat skin begins to become dry, scaly and eventually chapped, further increasing the risk of mastitis infections.

So the “snowball” effect begins and the risk of mastitis escalates rapidly!

At Dairy Focus, we generally use five basic steps to reduce the risk of mastitis in the milking herd due to adverse environmental conditions.


Step 1 - Manage the environment

Broadly speaking, there are two ways that the environment can increase the risk of mastitis:

  1. Increased opportunity for teats to contact heavily contaminated environmental sources of bacteria
  2. The adverse effect of weather and mud on teat skin condition, causing dry, chapped skin which harbours many more bacteria, and can also affect milking performance

This means that, in terms of mastitis risk, the “environment” is anywhere that teats can come into contact with the environment. So it actually includes the dairy yards as well as paddocks, lanes, etc.

After milking, it is generally about an hour before most of the cows' teat orifices will have closed, so this is the highest risk period for new mastitis infections, especially environmental infections.

Thus, for milking cows, the highest risk period is the first hour after milking. Whilst the risk does not disappear after this hour, it is certainly lower.

The Dairy Focus Mastitis Control System includes a method of regularly assessing the environment and its effect on udders and teats, and then helps farms to develop a strategy to minimise the mastitis risk.


  • Closely examine where cows go after milking - the sooner after cups-off that cows teats can contact a risk area such as a muddy hole at the dairy exit, the higher the risk!
  • The "splashability" of mud is also important, because although the mud may not be deep enough for cows’ teats to reach it, highly "splashable" mud will quickly contaminate teat ends.
  • In wet weather, cows often choose to walk in the softer, muddier areas along the edge of the lane - these areas often become quite deep and also highly "splashable"!!
  • Wherever possible, regularly clean lanes and feed pads BEFORE it gets too wet and “sloshy”.
  • Deal with badly affected areas of lanes, water troughs, etc., to avoid cows “sloshing” through mud after milking (put a “hot wire” around areas unable to be repaired immediately).
  • Ensure cows DO NOT lie down in lanes, holding yards, feed pads, etc after milking – this is extremely high risk!  If cows go straight to feed after milking, they are likely to remain standing for that first hour.  This is critical on feed pads, because if the feed is not there, the cows will often just lie down and wait!


Step 2 - Ensure optimal teat condition

Teat end condition and teat skin condition significantly affect the risk of mastitis – in particular, excellent teat end condition is “low risk” for mastitis, and poor teat end condition is “high risk” for mastitis!

The key factors influencing teat skin condition & teat end condition are likely to be liner selection & condition, milking machine settings (especially vacuum level & pulsation), milking practices (especially overmilking), teat disinfection efficiency (especially coverage of teats), and cold, wet, windy weather.

You do not have to guess about teat condition – teat condition can be accurately assessed and scored.

If teat condition is less than ideal, get expert advice to determine the cause and recommend appropriate changes to rectify the problem.

Teat scoring is a critically important part of every Dairy Focus Mastitis Risk Assessment, and significantly affects a herd’s Mastitis Risk Score and Overall Mastitis Risk Rating.


  • Closely examine a range of teats and teat ends immediately after cups off.
  • If you have any doubts about teat condition, especially teat end condition, engage an expert to score your herd’s teats and recommend remedial action.
  • Teats heal very quickly and there will be a significant improvement in 3 – 4 weeks after corrective action is taken – so have them re-assessed then.


Step 3 – Pre-milking udder preparation

In severe conditions with many dirty teats, consider using a pre-milking preparation routine (washing & then drying with paper towels) to ensure cups only go on clean, dry teats - DO NOT put cups on wet teats.

Pre-milking teat disinfection may benefit some herds, but is a very expensive and time consuming waste in many herds – always get expert advice based on milk cultures and knowledge of your situation to help make this decision!

If done, it must be done properly – use a product registered for pre-milking teat disinfection, wash and dry teats if necessary, then spray with disinfectant and allow 30 seconds contact time before drying teats again with paper towel prior to cups on. If not done properly, it is probably a waste of time and money!


  • Consider a pre-milking preparation routine during bad environmental conditions - see "Wash & Dry!"
  • If you are considering pre-milking teat disinfection as part of that routine, get expert advice to help make that decision


Step 4 – Post-milking teat disinfection (spraying or dipping)

Post-milking teat disinfection (spraying or dipping) is always critically important to both remove bacteria from the teat surface and for the emollients to help maintain good healthy skin condition, but it becomes especially important in severe environmental conditions when both these factors are threatened.


  • Make a special effort to achieve as close as possible to “Gold Standard” in post-milking teat disinfection – 100% coverage of 100% of teats
  • Ensure teat disinfectant product has adequate emollient to maintain good skin condition


Step 5 – Early detection and treatment of clinical cases

The sooner that any clinical cases are detected and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.

In some herds, it will be sufficient to closely observe the cows during milking, and also to monitor the filter sock for the first sign of any clots, as well as monitoring Bulk Milk Cell Counts (BMCC).

However, in many herds, especially if BMCC begins to rise, it will be worthwhile instituting a policy of regular whole herd strip testing during periods of high risk.

The relative importance of each of the different mastitis risk factors depends to a large extent on which bacteria are causing the mastitis.

Hence it is very important to get milk culture results from clinical cases of mastitis, as well as from a group of high cell count cows, to know which bacteria are causing mastitis infections in the herd.

Identifying the bacteria allows both a tailored response and a targeted pro-active prevention program.

Environmental mastitis infections can often be severe and difficult to treat – consult your veterinarian to help you develop the best possible treatment protocols.

Without cultures, you are “flying blind” and can only use generic control measures, and generic treatments.


  • Closely monitor the filter sock and cell counts, as well as “suspect” cows.
  • Consider regular whole herd fore-stripping during periods of high risk
  • Begin taking milk samples from all clinical cases prior to treatment. Place in the refrigerator, and send to the laboratory once weekly. If likely to be stored for more than a week, place them in the freezer.
  • Consult your veterinarian and use milk culture results to help develop an effective treatment protocol for the infections your herd is experiencing
  • Review those protocols with your veterinarian if treatment is not effective


How does the Dairy Focus Mastitis Control System help in these circumstances?

The tools and elements of the Dairy Focus Mastitis Control System allow us to help farmers build a comprehensive plan to cover all five key mastitis risk areas on their particular farm.

A key tool is the Dairy Focus Mastitis Risk Assessment which is a complete assessment of every element of mastitis risk in the dairy. Your Dairy Focus Mastitis Risk Score rates your dairy and milking process as low, medium or high risk for mastitis – and highlights the areas that need action to reduce that risk score.

Prevention of mastitis is always going to be better than attempting a cure.

Significantly, every herd using the Dairy Focus Mastitis Control System that has achieved a “Low” Mastitis Risk Score has noticed either little or no effect on their level of mastitis during the recent wet conditions!

Dairy Focus has put together a special Rain & Mud Mastitis Rescue Pack - a 3-step process to help farms retrieve their mastitis and cell count control after experiencing severe environmental conditions.

Click here for the
Dairy Focus Rain & Mud Mastitis Rescue Pack

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