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Data Key to Discovering Dry Cow Mastitis Solution

28 June 2013

UK - Controlling mastitis is particularly difficult in expanding herds, but, with robust on-farm data, a targeted management plan can be reached to solve specific on-farm problem areas.

From good data analysis, not only can you understand the recurring cases but also the epidemiology, according to Somerset based Veterinary Surgeon, James Breen who addressed the Large Herd Seminar in Gloucestershire this week.

By working alongside Nick Tyler, a Wiltshire dairy farmer, Mr Breen was able to demonstrate the benefits of thorough data and proper analysis and the resultant plummeting mastitis rates.

The mastitis case rate on Mr Tyler’s 600 Holstein-Friesian dairy herd was at 25 per cent but this was successfully lowered to nine per cent.

“We went off a general rule that we would allow one cow in twelve to have mastitis,” said Mr Breen. “However, when we started collecting data from the herd in around 2007, the number was closer to four in twelve.”

Mr Breen urged that categorising data is important and which figures are used can impact on success.

Despite the mastitis rate being used as an initial benchmark, Mr Breen stated that there are other statistics that are more valuable to cracking mastitis.

“Mastitis rate is like a headline and is a good place to start. However, it is only a starting point,” added Mr Breen.

He also warned that cell count is not enough to rely on.

“Cell count only reveals information about what the culling rate is and what the lactation stages are at, these don’t really get to the heart of the matter.”

Instead, stockmen should be looking at cell count summaries in individual cows, across the herd and across the year. Doing so should be done against dry period and lactating period cows and original infections against recurrent mastitis, he advised.

“Upon collecting the data we realised that the dry period was clearly important and what was happening at this stage could help us progress,” said Mr Breen.

With this information the pair learned that dry cow environments would be key to clearing up the disease. So, this is where management changed. 

"The dry cows were moved out of stalls and into straw yards where stocking rates could be kept down," commented farmer Nick Tyler.

“By addressing early dry cow cubicles we arrived at a point where the dry cow environment was very similar to the environment of the milking cows,” said Nick. “I started bedding the cows out with chopped straw every day whereas before it had been more like three times a week.

“I also created ten calving boxes to improve conditions at calving. They used to calve on the yard, now they calve in separate calving areas.”

Mr Breen and Mr Tyler then decided to split the cows into four groups. These were fresh heifers, fresh cows, late lactation cows and high cell count cows.

Doing so made monitoring the herd easier as this helped the data more simple to process.

“We initially segregated the cows with high somatic cell counts, and then we looked at creating a heifer group and lowering stocking rates for each,” explained Mr Tyler. “In terms of cubicles we used more sand - that was one of my problems, I was a bit stingy with sand and quickly found out that sand is a poor material when not properly kept.”

To address this whilst dodging the costly solution of buying more sand, wood fines were incorporated into the bedding.

The cleaning routine was then altered, he added.

“We started cleaning and raking cubicles three times a day which was accompanied with a flood washing system,” said Mr Tyler.

But, while changes were being made there was no let-up in maintaining the number one priority – monitoring the herd and checking the data.

“We were at around 70-80 mastitis cases a year in 2007,” said Mr Breen. “So far this year, we have seen 11 clinical cases in the last three months and our percentage of mastitis cases is around 9 per cent.”

“But by keeping checks on things we were still able to identify problems. There were Streptococcus uberis issues coming from dry period straw yards, which we were then able to do something about," explained Mr Breen.  

Understanding this was only possible because of the data, managed on Sum-it, a software that enabled the data to be managed and interpretted. This helped reduce bacterial transmission around the farm and consequently lowered the risk of uninfected cows getting mastitis.

“The quickest way to reduce recurrence is to lower the amount of new outbreaks, so don’t focus on cases that keep reoccurring," urged Mr Breen. 

Possibly the most important lesson learned, was that maintaining data monitoring and keeping constant checks on cell count was vital to understanding the disease.

In doing so it is possible to make targeted changes and decisions around treatments much more relevant for your herd, added Mr Breen.

“Things happen quicker the more cows you have,” concluded Mr Breen. “Get the data right and then you can understand the disease on your farm.”

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms


Top image via Shutterstock

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