Getting to Grips with Mastitis

Getting to Grips with Mastitis

Animal Welfare on Irish Farms

At Terra NutriTECH, we understand that Animal Welfare helps to drive efficiency and productivity on dairy farms. In this blog post, we examine the effects of ‘Mastitis’ and how to stay proactive about tackling the issue.

Dairy farming is the business of producing high-quality protein in the form of milk. Milk quality is the most important element to successful dairy farming. Minimizing mastitis and milk quality issues becomes a key component of this. 

Healthy cows producing high-quality milk means we need to focus on reducing mastitis in our dairy herds. With our innovative technology and high-quality minerals, we can play our part in improving milk quality for our customers.  

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What is Mastitis? 

Mastitis is inflammation of the udder usually caused by an infection or bacteria. This inflammation and infection cause a number of symptoms. It will directly impact milk quality and can be a significant cost to the cow and your herd performance. 

The first thing we need to do is measure current performance and benchmark it against some key targets. 

Farmers should aim to have :

  1. A herd somatic cell count under 200,000 cells per ml, most farms should aim even lower than this with a target of <150,00 cells per ml. 
  1. Farms should have less than 25 cases per 100 cows of clinical mastitis in a yearly lactation cycle in the herd 
  1. With the first 30 days after calving being a high-risk period, each farm should aim for <8 cases per 100 cows in this first 30 days.  
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With our customers we support improved animal health through individualized mineral supplementation. With our clients we have seen improvements in milk quality in a number of areas. In freshly calved cows where we have reduced subclinical milk fever the rates of clinical mastitis in the first 30 days have fallen. 

We also believe that minerals like copper, zinc and selenium play a key role in immunity which helps milk quality. Better udder health and immunity means a more robust ability to fight off infections.  

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What forms of mastitis affect our herds? 

Mastitis can be largely be categorized in two types; sub-clinical and clinical mastitis.


This is mastitis most often not visible and has a huge impact on milk quality. This is where infections in the udder are often more chronic and lead to invasion of somatic cells (white blood cells). This increase in somatic cells reduces production and when they become chronic they can dramatically decrease production and increase culling for mastitis. 

Most processors apply heavy penalties for persistently high cell counts.  

In Ireland and internationally with the adoption of the mastitis five-point plan in the late 1960s we have seen a dramatic fall in SCC issues in herds. However, it is still a big challenge in many herds. 

These infections can be difficult to detect and control involves the use of milk records to identify infected cows. The bugs that cause cell count issues spread from cow to cow during milking. 

This means they are a couple of very key elements to getting good control of cell count issues in our dairy herds.  

  • Regular machine maintenance annually, change liners every 200 milking or every 6 months. The milking machine is the most important machine on the farm.  
  • Watch cows during milking to make sure they aren’t uncomfortable or uneasy. 
  • Teat score the herd to check for any evidence of teat end damage (<10% of teats should have hyperkeratosis). 
  • Have a consistent routine during milking avoid stress on cows and ensure good cow flow during milking. Cows shouldn’t be pushed into the parlour and poor cow flow can cause stress and reduced immunity.  
  • Milking routine itself needs to be very consistent. Attach to dry clean udders, ensure correct unit alignment and avoid liner slippage. All cows should be pre-stripped to allow better milk to let down and problem cases identified early.  
  • Avoid over and under milking cows. 
  • Wear gloves and regularly change when contaminated. 
  • Post teat disinfection is essential to use enough volume, cover the whole teat with a suitable agent. 
  • Carry out regular checks on the machine, vacuum and pulsation. 
  • Farmers must use milk records to track individual cows over their lactation. Aim to carry out 4-6 milk recordings a year. 
  • When problem cows are identified and treated they should be milked last or have unit cluster flushed before next cow to avoid the spread  
  • Make good treatment decisions based on milk records and culture samples.  
  • The dry period is crucial to control somatic cell count issues. We must focus in on using the right antibiotics/technique and aim for preparing your herd for selective dry cow therapy. 
  • Review new infection rates during the dry period and also cure rates 
  • All freshly calved cows should have CMT tests carried out after calving before going into the tank. Time milk recordings as close to drying off and after calving as possible. 

High SCC issues in herds dramatically affect milk quality and production. The target for farms should be to have rolling SCC for the year under 200,000 cells. More progressive farms are now aiming to have this under 150,000 cells average annually. 

Clinical mastitis  

This type of mastitis is visible or can be seen. It can range from changes in milk to more severe udder swelling and or sick cows. We have seen these cases of clinical mastitis increase on-farm over the last number of years with SCC actually going down. 

There are a number of environmental pathogens or bacteria that can cause clinical mastitis. 

While some bacteria from the environment can actually cause both clinical mastitis and cell count issues like Strep Uberis. 

When we look at managing clinical mastitis in our herds two targets for the herd are:  

  • Less than 8 cases per 100 cows in the first 30 days 
  • Less than 25 cases per 100 cows in the year or lactation* 

*A case is any time a cow is treated for mastitis. If the same cows relapse during her lactation then they are also counted as another case. 

Clinical mastitis can cause cow pain, lost production and uses more antibiotics. The cost of clinical mastitis has been estimated at €250.00 per clinical case. 

When we look at controlling clinical mastitis on-farm, we need to consider three key areas.

  1. Environmental hygiene. These bacteria like wet mucky conditions so improving lying and shed hygiene really helps reduce the risk 
  1. Healthy teat function. The teat end provides a physical barrier to infections where we have teat damage or laxity these cows can be more prone to infections. With terra NutriTECH our system reduces milk fever which can reduce muscle function and immunity. This means with our clients they have seen less milk fever and issues with mastitis in the first 30 days of calving 
  1. Udder immunity is the third important component of reducing clinical mastitis. This can be affected by stress, disease, minerals and other things like nutritional stress. 

At Terra NutriTECH, by focusing in on good mineralization and better immunity. We can support healthier animals and also improve and reduce the incidence of clinical mastitis. 

Reducing clinical mastitis takes a number of very important steps  

  • Reduce stress on cows by good stockmanship and ensure good cow flow through the milking parlour.
  • Aim to have cows and udders as clean as possible. Indoors focus on a cubicle per cow. Aim to have beds comfortable, dry and clean.
  • All passageways, collecting yards and high traffic areas need to be scraped and kept clean.
  • Ensure good teat function by teat scoring a % of the herd regularly. React to teat damage quickly checking vacuum, pulsation and your milking machine.
  • Clip tails regularly to keep udders clean.
  • Ensure calving pen hygiene is excellent.
  • Mange transition diseases, especially milk fever as this reduces immunity and weakens teat muscles. At Terra NutriTECH our clients who reduced milk fever issues have also reported less mastitis in freshly calved cows. 
  • Good hygiene during milking routine is very important.  
  • Where hygiene is a risk use an appropriate pre-dip for teat disinfection. 
  • Check herd for other issues like lameness or disease that can be affecting immunity 
  • Keep milking time under 1 hour and where it is longer the above rules are even more important. 
  • Review all treatments and use fore stripping to pick up and identify clinical cases early. 
  • Review records and times of mastitis regularly. These patterns may help assess where risks are in relation to the time of the season.

So, mastitis continues to be a costly disease for dairy farmers. Follow our top farming tips above and ensure optimal animal health through our technology. 

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Please call Ronan on 087 7086714  to find out about using the Terra NutriTech Automated Mineral Dosing System can aid your plan to tackle Mastitis. Get in touch with our nutritionist team to learn more about liquid mineral supplementation and find out how your farm can benefit. Invest in your herd today!