Recipes - Mastitis
The dairy industry just cannot seem to win these days. After five years of depressed prices and then a few months of financial relief, Covid-19 hits the world. Over the last three months, milk prices have fallen right back to where they had been for the previous five years.
The dairy producers that remain in business are already masters of frugal financial ingenuity. What are the key segments they need to analyze to make it through this next financial disaster?
The answers are feed rations, biofilm and contamination, mastitis, and payment sample management.
Feed commodities are expensive and need to be used in the exact rations to guarantee a return on investment. Over-feeding of expensive commodities which a producer either does not get paid for, or has a high rate of intake, but low output in milk needs to be analyzed. If producers are finding the cost of input versus production is low, they are wasting money that could be better used in one hundred other ways to sustain their farms.
Biofilm and system contamination is the reoccurring headache that dairy producers are continually battling. Microbiologically speaking, dairy milk is the perfect growth media for bacteria. Milk is nutrient-packed with protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. If the milking system is not cleaned correctly or there is a contamination site along the path, bacteria will settle in to create a biofilm that will be nearly impossible to remove. This biofilm will taint the milk sample, which can severely jeopardize the producer’s livelihood. Producers will start losing quality premiums and could eventually be dismissed from their milk marketing cooperative.
Mastitis accounts for a five to ten percent overall loss of yield on any given dairy farm. Catching mastitis while it is sub-clinical not only dramatically drops the time a cow is in the hospital pen, but also saves on valuable pharmaceuticals like antibiotics. Pen sampling the herd on a weekly basis is an extremely inexpensive way of monitoring herd health and maximizing financial returns.
The payment sample that comes off the farm is liquid gold in a two-ounce vial. It represents not only the endless hours of work the producers invest, but also the sacrifices they make to produce a premium product. If the sample itself is tainted, by inadequate sampling and handling practices, by inadvertent tool contamination, or by human error, it can have severe ramifications for the producer. Further, raw milk inherently stratifies; thus, agitation is a continual issue, which the current Pastured Milk Ordinances do little to address. Your payment needs to be based on representative sampling to ensure that you are fairly compensated.
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Mastitis caused by infections in dairy cows contributes to an overall loss of $550 million dollars annually, according to the United States Dairy Association (USDA). The natural components of milk make it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow: fat, protein, lactose and an average incubation temperature in the udder of between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. There are several on-farm practices that protect the cow from getting mastitis, like pre and post dipping the udder after milking and controlling the amount of moisture in the bedding. Utilizing single use cloths for removing debris from the udder and diligently following written Mastitis Control Plans help to lessen outbreaks. Even so, the farmer is still reliant on a veterinarian to visit the farm and take samples to confirm any suspected diagnosis and treat the cow. By the time the veterinarian is involved, the cow may have bacterial counts upwards of 400,000 (what) per quarter requiring isolation from the herd in the hospital group from 10-14 days.
Farmers already have access to the paddles and the California Mastitis Test (CMT) kits, which are regularly used to monitor cow health during treatment for mastitis while they are in the hospital groups. The next level for dairy farmers is the create an on-farm microbiology lab to preemptively look for E. coli, coliforms, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus agalactiae, mycoplasma’s and overall standard plate counts in their healthy herd. This might seem like a daunting task, but with a small incubator and three district packs of 3M Petrifilm, dairy farms would have the tools needed to diagnose mastitis while it is still sub-clinical and increase the overall quality of the milk sent to the processor. By string sampling into a sterile collection unit and then transferring the sample to the petrifilm and incubating it, the farmer can take proactive control over the process and increase the health of the herd.
If sampled regularly, this proactive approach to herd health will lead to the lowering of costs and an overall increase in milk production, as there will be fewer cows needing to be isolated in hospital groups. This increase in herd health will also reap the benefits of lower microbiologic counts and more assurance of achieving the quality premiums on which farmers rely.
Who knew so much came down to clean water for quality milk?
The Internet is riddled with tips and tricks to control mastitis and improve the quality of milk through feed rations, but what is generally overlooked is the essential need for clean, accessible water.
Experts focus on so many factors such as bedding, milking practices, proper sanitation of the milk lines, and the perfect nutritional balance, but the base of all milk is water. Each cow drinks 30-50 gallons of water per day, which accounts for 87% of the makeup of milk.
When thirsty, cows will drink whatever water is available to them. If the available water is contaminated with bacteria or the dissolved solids in the water are not evaluated, producers may be creating avoidable issues for themselves.
What can be done?
The first step for producers is to assess the quality of their herds’ drinking water. A complete analysis of chemicals and microbiologic contaminants is essential, as the cow’s tolerance and performance are directly linked. Water contaminated with heavy metals like Ferrous Iron (Fe) will cause scouring, loss of body weight, and lower milk production by decreasing the cow’s ability to digest nutrients from the feed. Bacterial contamination in the water will increase the chances of cows becoming infected with a mastitis infection, which will lead to increased costs for treatment and loss of production. Mastitis accounts for over $550 million in lost production each year, so using simple means of avoidance are wise overall investments.
The second step for producers is to create an environment that is easily accessible. For example, troughs need to be set outside the exit of the milking parlor so cows can drink after being milked. They just expelled up to 60 pounds of milk; no wonder the ladies are thirsty. Water troughs in the pens need to be placed at the ends of the bedding lines and every 100 feet, so a cow never needs to walk more than 50 feet to get water. The troughs need to be a minimum of three inches deep and should allow for at least 2.5 linear inches per cow. The troughs should be physically cleaned at a minimum of every other day to prevent organic build up and algae growth.
It is simple. Fresh, sanitary water is the backbone on which all other efforts for quality milk rest.
With clean accessible water, the nutritionist can create a feed ration and a program that will increase volume and components and decrease overall mastitis infections throughout a herd.
Farmers dedicate significant time to keeping cows dry, udders healthy, and teats clean. On the surface, pre and post dips are mechanisms to remove bacteria and organic contaminants before the milking cluster is applied. A properly executed pre and post-dip will help protect the cow from a mastitis infection from bacteria like S. aureus. When proper technique is consistent for every cow that enters the parlor, the overall herd somatic cell counts will go down, and the farm’s milk quality will go up. Proper hygiene is more than just a task in the parlor – proper milking procedures could save lives.
What is not fully understood is that while S. aureus has a detrimental effect on the health of cows and productivity, the presence of another bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, can lead to deadly consequences. Listeria is naturally occurring on farms. In fact, dairy farms act as reservoirs for Listeria. It is frequently found in bulk tank milk samples and the feces of clinically healthy cows.
Listeria monocytogenes is a Gram-positive non-spore-forming bacterium which has an amazing ability to survive in harsh environments. Listeria can grow in temperature ranges of 1-45O Celsius, pH of 4.5-9.6, 25.5% salt concentration, with or without available oxygen. To make matters worse, it is the causal agent of Listeriosis which has a 20-30% mortality rate if consumed by humans. The mortality rate can reach as high as 70% of it goes untreated and infiltrates the nervous system.
Given the real possibility of health complications and even death from consumption of Listeria, the importance of mitigation through proper teat hygiene cannot be overstated. The proper technique for a pre and post-dip is as follows:
1: With a single use towel, wipe away all visual organic matter from the teat.
2. Teats must be entirely submerged in solution or covered with sanitizing foam.
3. Teats must remain in contact with the solution for at least 30 seconds or as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Teats must be thoroughly wiped to remove the solution. For best cleaning action, teats should be wiped in a circular motion with attention paid to teat ends. Wiping stimulates milk let-down and reduces the risk of contamination up, into the teat end.
Proper Post Dip:
1. Disinfectant must be applied as soon as possible after removing the milking cluster.
2. Disinfectant must coat the entire surface that was covered by the teat liner.
3. Do not wipe disinfectant. In frigid weather, remove the excess sanitizer from the end of the teat to prevent freezing.
4. Products should be antimicrobial to eliminate bacteria with a skin conditioner since sores can lead to infection.
To verify teat sanitation and overall milking procedure hygiene, aseptically pen/string sample every group into a sterile collection unit and send the samples to a verified lab. Request species-specific results for staph, strep, coliforms, and pathogens like Listeria. A structured sampling program is the key to verifying on-farm milking procedures are being performed correctly and will identify possible issues before the herd is contaminated. When used as part of a Mastitis Control Plan, farmers can also proactively impact their quality premium and ensure they get paid top dollar for the milk they produce.
Proper hygiene is more than just a task in the parlor. It can literally save lives. Train your staff with the knowledge they need to mitigate this possibility.
According to the USDA mastitis accounts for $400-$500 million, or $23 per cow, in lost production and revenue for dairy farmers nationwide. Further, mastitis can shorten the life expectancy of the cow and has negative effects on milk production after the cow goes through treatment. There is also evidence of a link between mastitis and biofilm formation on the surfaces of milking and processing systems. These biofilms can lead to further losses in quality premiums. This loss of revenue prevents the dairy farmer from putting capital back into operations.
One proven solution to reduce mastitis.
Implementation of a Mastitis Control Plan with special emphasis on mastitis treatment and routine pen/string sampling. Through general management and organization of the on-farm duties like bedding management and milking parlor procedures, a farm can make significant strides in controlling the spread of mastitis-causing bacteria like S. aureus and S. uberis. Animal management duties that emphasize an effective pre and post-dip process will also add value by stopping the spread of bacteria. How does the herd manager detect mastitis in the sub-clinical phase?
When the infected quarter is red, inflamed, and painful to the touch the mastitis is already in a clinical phase. This means immediate quarantine from the herd and a course of antibiotics. One approach to detecting mastitis before it reaches the clinical phase is weekly to bi-weekly pen/string sampling.
By finding mastitis when it is at sub-clinical levels, the production losses and cost of medications are lower. This translates to the cow being in the hospital group for a shorter duration, and back in the parlor creating revenue sooner. A routine pen sampling schedule reduces the operating costs of testing every cow when somatic cell counts in the bulk tank begin to rise. Early identification and management will lead to overall higher revenue and profits which dairy farmers desperately need in today’s market.