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DULUTH, GA - The impact of mastitis can be staggering, and managing it sometimes feels like a daunting task. With each case of mastitis, producers may experience economic loss from cost of treatment, lower milk production, added labor, increased somatic cell count and the possibility of removing the cow from the herd.1 But the threat of contagious mastitis can be greatly reduced through strict, consistent management in the milking parlor.

Consider implementing these five parlor protocols to control mastitis cases on your operation:

Create a standardized milking routine

“The main mechanism of transmission of contagious mastitis is the spread of pathogens from cow to cow at milking, so proper milking parlor routines are a must,” said Dr. Linda Tikofsky, professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Consider implementing these important practices into your milking routine:

Wear gloves – Bacteria are less likely to adhere to gloves, wearing them can reduce the risk of spreading mastitis-causing pathogens from cow to cow.

Fore-strip – Stripping stimulates the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for milk let-down, allowing milkers to check for signs of clinical mastitis. “A critical step in a routine is taking three to four good strips out of each teat,” stressed Dr. Tikofsky.

Pre-dip – Pre-dipping with an effective sanitizing solution kills any lingering bacteria on the teat end.

Dry – Ensure the teats and udder are completely dry. Remaining water may contain bacteria and contaminate the teat end.

Attach milking unit – “Wait about 90 to 120 seconds before putting on the milking unit,” Dr. Tikofsky said. “The delay will allow time for the oxytocin reflex to happen.”

Detach milking unit – To prevent teat end damage and decrease risk of infection, ensure the vacuum is shut off before removing the milking unit.

Post-dip – Post-dipping with a germicide protects the vulnerable teat end from coming in contact with mastitis-causing pathogens.

Practice good cow handling

“Gentle handling and a calm parlor environment can prevent the cow from becoming stressed,” explained Dr. Tikofsky.

When cows are stressed, adrenaline is released and interferes with milk let-down. Cows are also more likely to fall, act skittish and defecate in the parlor when being handled too roughly.

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Watch the teat ends

A healthy teat end is another important aspect of mastitis prevention. Studies suggest that cows with rough teat ends are more susceptible to having a high somatic cell count or clinical mastitis.

One way to maintain teat health is to check the vacuum level and pulsation rate of your milking system. Tikofsky recommends having your equipment and pulsators checked at least twice a year by a trained technician.

Make sure you are also caring for chapped teats in the winter. Using a Teat-End Condition Scorecard on your operation can help you identify whether teat-end health is an issue.

Implement a dry-cow treatment

A dry-cow treatment protocol is an effective way to control contagious mastitis.

“If a cow has a lingering infection from her previous lactation, we want to address it with dry-cow therapy, and properly administering a teat sealant to prevent new infections,” noted Dr. Tikofsky. “What we do over the dry period sets her up for her next lactation. Antibiotic treatment during the dry period generally results in higher cure rates than during lactation, while teat sealants are shown to aid in preventing new infections.”

Make sure you are using a teat sealant with a color that’s easy to distinguish from milk during removal at calving time, she added

Correctly identify and respond to new mastitis cases

Even with the best management practices, mastitis infections do happen. Dr. Tikofsky recommends producers take a milk sample, culture it and wait 24 hours for results before treating.

“Sampling can be done without a negative effect on cure rate or animal welfare in cases with mild or moderate mastitis,” she asserted. “Work with your veterinarian to implement mastitis treatment protocols best suited for your operation.”

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