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Livestock Event: Reducing Threat of Mastitis and Antibiotic Use

23 June 2015

ANALYSIS - The blanket use of antibiotics in dry cow management to prevent mastitis and other udder problems has been common for many years.

It is estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of the dairy herds in the UK routinely treat cows with antibiotics.

However, concerns have been rising over the excessive use of antibiotics and the rise in antibiotic resistance.

"Catastrophic Threat"

In June last year, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Prof Dame Sally Davies said: “Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat.

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Monitoring milk quality, a major step forward recently has allowed almost instantaneous retrieval of somatic cell counts and pathogen identification

“If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics”

The concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in farm livestock brought a swift response from the animal medicines sector that issued a series of recommendations over the use of antimicrobials.

Call for Responsible Use

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) said that “Preventive treatment or Prophylaxis with antibiotics:

  • Must only be applied to animals diagnosed at high risk of bacterial disease, and
  • Must only occur under prescription by a veterinarian on the basis of epidemiological and clinical knowledge, and
  • Must not be applied systematically or routinely, and
  • Must not be used to compensate for poor hygiene or for inadequate husbandry conditions or where improvements in animal husbandry could reduce the need for antibiotic treatment. Prophylactic treatment may be appropriate on a temporary basis, to prevent disease in animals while the vet and farmer make improvements to biosecurity and animal husbandry on the farm, to reduce the likelihood of subsequent batches of animals requiring treatment in this manner.”

Reporting and Identifying Pathogen Challenges

Now the National Milk Laboratories are to produce a reporting system to aid decision making with regard to the need for antibiotic use – specifically as a dry cow treatment.

The aim is to use existing data where possible – from both NML and NMR and to supplement this with PCR analysis to identify pathogen challenges on farm

NML said that the screening was necessary because a wide range of pathogens can cause high SCC’s and mastitis and some will require urgent treatment, while others will be suitable for a ‘self-cure’ approach.

Knowledge of the pathogen will allow precision in treatment and if penicillin resistance already in the herd, persisting with penicillin based treatments will exacerbate the problem.

Dry Cow Report


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"There is increasing pressure for greater antibiotic stewardship in agriculture and rationalisation of their use on farm"

The Selective Dry Cow Report will help producers and their advisers to identify those cows requiring dry cow antibiotic treatment based on the evidence provided in the cow’s routine somatic cell count (SCC) test results, the herd bulk milk reports and the mastitis pathogens identified in the herd’s milk.

“There is increasing pressure for greater antibiotic stewardship in agriculture and rationalisation of their use on farm,” said NML director Ben Bartlett.

“The blanket use of antibiotics at drying off was part of the 1960’s five point mastitis plan that has remained in place for many years.

“However, many related udder health practices have improved now and there is pressure to move away from the widespread use of antibiotics as a prophylactic treatment at drying off.

“An example of this is seen in Arla’s Arlagården quality assurance scheme that requires Arla producers to take a responsible approach antibiotic use in the dry period. Other milk buyers are also expected to focus on this area in the coming months.”

He added that the farming sector needed to wake up to the potential problems of antibiotic resistance, but it was not advisable simply to ban the use of antibiotics, because if an animal becomes sick it will need treating.

National Milk Records: Before and After Dry Period

As well as referring to NML bulk milk SCC data, the new report links to NMR records and assess individual cow SCCs before and after the dry period.

Access to NMR data also allows the herd’s incidence of mastitis to be reported and analysed.

“Importantly, the report includes an analysis of the herd’s pathogen challenge from quarterly PCR bulk milk sample testing carried out by NML,” added Mr Bartlett.

“This comprehensive information gives producers and vets firm evidence on which to base decisions on antibiotic use – particularly as a dry cow treatment.”

The reports will be available to producers and nominated vets through NMR’s web based Herd Companion service. Non NMR customers will have access to the report but it will not include individual cow data.

The ability to detect problems and pathogens rapidly on the farm will help the dairy producer target treatment for conditions such as mastitis and help reduce the need for extensive antibiotic use which carries with it concerns over antibiotic resistance as well as high costs.

iPhone Kit


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"The results are displayed on the iPhone/iPod Touch 40 seconds later"
David Hodgson, UK distributor for Dairy Quality Inc.

A new device from a Canadian company, Dairy Quality Inc, aims to give the farmer accurate somatic cell counts and pathogen reading almost instantaneously.

The test kit uses an iPhone or iPod to check milk samples gving the readings in 40 seconds.

The hand held device uses an iPhone based app that will assist day to day management of somatic cell count on farm.

Samples from individual cows can be tested and the results recorded to build up a history of infection in that animal which can be downloaded.

There is also an option to get an illustration of the somatic cell count and pathogens present in a general bulk milk sample.

“A milk sample is drawn and loaded into a slide, which automatically mixes the sample with reagents to identify somatic cells,” said David Hodgson who distributes the device in the UK.

“The imaging technology of the device then scans the milk.

“An image of the scan is captured by the iPhone/iPod Touch camera and analysed by the Dairy SCC app.

“The results are displayed on the iPhone/iPod Touch 40 seconds later.”

What Does Mastitis Cost?

With a single case of mastitis estimated to cost between £70 and £250 to the UK dairy farmer and the average UK dairy herd suffering about 50 to 60 cases per 100 cows per lactation, early warning of the condition not only provides better animal welfare, but also can save money.

Good herd management and inspection are essential to ensure best practice and best health for the herd.

To help in this, DeLaval has produced and dairy herd management system to allow milk producers to identify cows in heat and spot mastitis before it affects the milk.

Milk producers will also be made aware of cows affected by different metabolic disorders before actual symptoms are visible.

The system is designed to give the milk producer a better overview of the whole herd while providing valuable information on individual cows.

The Herd Navigator concept has been developed in close co-operation between FOSS and DeLaval International AB and DeLaval GB will be working in co-operation with EBVC vets.

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Each case of mastitis costs between £70 and £250 a head

“Herd Navigator is a significant innovation in herd management as the system automatically measures different components in the milk while the cow is being milked,” said Kieran FitzGerald, VMS Solutions Manager, GB and Ireland.

It provides the opportunity to improve the financial result from each cow: early warnings alert the milk producer to the appropriate quick action needed for individual cows, for reproduction, health and nutrition. Proactive action will also improve animal welfare and food safety.
The system focuses on reproduction, udder health and feeding.


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"Cows do have their own natural physical defence against infection in the form of the keratin plug that forms in the teat canal after drying off, but this is not always sufficiently effective"

Using sophisticated bio modelling, analytical results are presented on the farmers computer in a clear form that makes it easy to spot animals which need special attention including:

  • Cows in heat, pregnant cows and cows with reproduction disorders or abortions.
  • Cows that are developing mastitis, days before clinical signs can be seen.
  • Early detection of ketosis cases or imbalance in feed ration.

According to MSD Animal Health technical adviser Martin Behr the dry period is a critical time in the battle to combat mastitis, which remains a significant drain on dairy herd profitability.

He said: “It provides an ideal opportunity to clear up existing bacterial infections in the udder with the use of intramammary antibiotics, but it is also vital to prevent new infections over the period.

“Cows do have their own natural physical defence against infection in the form of the keratin plug that forms in the teat canal after drying off, but this is not always sufficiently effective.

"In a recent study it was shown that only 50 per cent of 500 examined quarters had a fully developed keratin plug within 10 days of drying off, whilst 20 per cent of teats remained open into the second half of the dry period. This is significant because the majority of clinical cases of mastitis that occur during the dry period do so within the first three weeks.

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Half of cows are given teat sealants when drying off. 

“Correct use of a teat sealant at drying off, immediately after the administration of the dry cow intramammary if used, will provide an effective physical barrier for the duration of the dry period, significantly reducing the chances of new infections of the udder.”

Teat Sealant Use

It is estimated that less than half of dairy cows are currently given a teat sealant at drying off, despite the concept being established for a number of years and numerous farm studies providing strong evidence of their efficacy.

As part of MSD’s mastitis control range the company has introduced a new teat sealant CEPRALOCK to complement its market-leading dry cow intramammary product and wider Dairy Herd Health portfolio.

Designed for use at drying off, with or without a dry cow intramammary antibiotic, CEPRALOCK provides an important inert barrier in the teat canal to reduce significantly the risk of bacterial infection of the udder during the dry period.

“At MSD Animal Health we are keen to ensure best practice in dry cow therapy, including the adoption of the correct protocols and application procedures. Therefore we are supporting the launch of CEPRALOCK with the offer of Continuous Professional Development and training on all aspects of dry cow therapy, including correct use of teat sealant and its removal after calving.”

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock



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