Diagnostics Key to Helping Drive Mastitis Levels Down Further

Progress to reduce mastitis on UK dairy farms is being made, with 2023 results showing cases at 29 per 100 cows, down from 41 in 20171.

While cases are dropping, there is still room for improvement, with the top 25% of producers averaging just 15 cases1 in the most recent data published by Kingshay, explained Senior Clinical Director at Westpoint Farm Vets and Kingshay Dr Tim Potter.

"A push towards selective dry cow therapy (SDCT) by milk processors and farm assurance has seen the majority of farms adopting it in some shape or form, with a real step change in farmers moving away from blanket antibiotic dry cow therapy," he said.

The cost of a mastitis case is high at £3651 from lost milk, treatment costs and increased risk from culling, rising over the past year due to increasing milk prices.

The fundamental challenge with mastitis is that it is a multifactorial disease, with management changes impacting cases, said Dr Potter. "Some farms can see seasonal trends, such as at turnout or when the cows come in or even changes in staff. That's where the need for good records and diagnostics comes in to identify the risks and pathogens involved."

Dr Potter says the fundamental areas for farmers to grasp when it comes to mastitis control are:

1. Knowing the farm’s case rate.

  1. It can be easy to become blind to mastitis, but all cases must be recorded to pinpoint where the problems lie and where improvements can be made. 

2. Identifying where the risks are

  1. This can be multifactorial. Ask yourself when the cows are getting mastitis in lactation, which will help identify where the risks are. For example, some farms will have challenges immediately post-calving, which indicates the problem lies in the dry period or close-up calving environment. Understanding when and where animals are picking up an infection is a must.

3. What pathogens are involved?

  1. This will tell you whether it's environmental or contagious mastitis you are dealing with, helping to target treatment and identifying where the problems may lie.

Dr Potter explained: "For example, if environmental bacteria are the problem, then it could indicate an issue with the bedding management, for example, whereas contagious pathogens could indicate a problem with hygiene in the parlour. The key thing is having the knowledge of what you are dealing with.”

Dr Potter stressed how data generated on dairy farms was vital to manage the number of cases, with new developments in on-farm diagnostics helping accelerate the responsible use of medicines.

Having a Targeted Approach

"Using on-farm diagnostics to help identify the pathogen and working with your vet creates a more targeted approach and can only be positive. Knowing what pathogen you are dealing with will help target antibiotic use, leading to fewer antibiotic treatments. In many cases, there will be no need for long milk withdrawals, and milk can be returned to the tank earlier, which is good for the environment and a farmer's bottom line.”

Government-funded vet visits in England as part of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway (AHWP) offer an opportunity for farmers to conduct tests and understand the issues with mastitis on their farms.

Dr Potter added: "The AHWP is a good opportunity for farmers and vets to review records and discuss what can be done to try and help reduce the number of cases. Although part of the AHWP requires BVD testing, the overall aim of the pathway is to address areas that can help improve your animals’ health and welfare- mastitis being one of them."

Growing consumer awareness of the need to tackle antimicrobial resistance should not be forgotten and this means that treating mastitis and other livestock diseases appropriately has never been more critical, added Livestock Veterinary Consultant Colin Penny from Zoetis.

"We are all aware and concerned about any potential overuse of antibiotics in animals and humans which is why we have seen a move by milk processors and our industry to reduce levels on farm wherever possible.

“The diagnostic stage is one of the most important in the whole mastitis treatment process, with current knowledge suggesting that many gram-negative mild mastitis cases will not benefit from antibiotic therapy2.

"A lack of rapid diagnostics has often been a barrier to more selective treatment of mastitis, but the development of pen side testing will help speed this up drastically, allowing farmers and their vets to make timely decisions based on accurate data, which will help target treatments where necessary", he added.

  1. Kingshay Dairy Costings Focus Report 2023
  2.  2 Lago, A., and S.M. Godden. 2018. Use of Rapid Culture Systems to Guide Clinical Mastitis Treatment Decisions. Vet. Clin. North Am. Food Anim. Pract. 34:389-412. Doi:10.1016/j.cvfa.2018.06.001

For further information please contact your veterinary surgeon, see the product’s SPC or contact Zoetis UK Ltd, Birchwood Building, Springfield Drive, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 7LP • customersupportuk@zoetis.com0345 300 8034 • www.zoetis.co.uk • Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). MM-27480

2nd October 2023

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