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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                                  January 2004

Hi Folks,

            After having spent a couple days with Extension veterinarians from Cornell in New York last month, I would like to relay some interesting information to you about mastitis. The team of Drs. Tikofsky, Zadoks, Welcome and Schukken from Cornell’s Quality Milk Production Services put on two days of meetings for farmers entitled, “Udder Health and Milk Quality Workshop for Organic Dairy Producers” which was attended by both conventional and organic farmers looking for non-antibiotic approaches to mastitis problems. About 20-25 farmers attended each day; one meeting was in Dryden and the next day in Richfield Springs. Although I presented a one hour talk as part of the program, I had the privilege to listen to the team of expert vets for the rest of the day. The audience seemed to really like these meetings and I would hope that either the vet school at Penn or Penn State Extension will hold similar meetings for producers in Pennsylvania.  

            By putting together wise management techniques with knowledge of basic biology and hygiene, it is possible to get ahead of many types of mastitis. It is only with a solid foundation in correct milking procedure that natural treatments can have a good chance of finishing off a problem. The same actually goes for antibiotic approaches - antibiotics will not be effective if chronically poor milking techniques remain.  

            Probably the most dramatic presentation regarding milking was delivered by Dr. Schukken who began his talk with “Milking cows the cow-way”. He immediately began by discussing how we should compare machine milking to the way the calf ‘milks’ the cow as the gold standard. The central theme here is milk letdown. Milk letdown is a function of the sight of the calf (or sound of milking), touch of the udder and timing. To best approximate the stimulus a calf gives to a cow to let down her milk, the entire preparation of the cow (pre-dipping, fore-stripping and wiping) to the time the machine is put on should be between 60-90 seconds - not more and not less. The most important part is the fore-stripping. The fore-stripping is what most closely approximates the action of a calf on a cow’s udder, not the dipping or the wiping. Fore-stripping also empties the teat canal of low quality milk and allows the farmer to visually inspect the milk for any abnormalities. If this is all done correctly, the vast majority of cows milk out within 4-5 minutes. Dr. Schukken showed this with lactocorder read-outs. A lactocorder measures milk flow every 0.7 seconds, its conductivity, the rate of flow, the foam percentage, total yield and temperature. The resulting graphs clearly demonstrated that it takes 60-90 seconds for the cow to let down her milk and really begin milking. If there is less than a 60-90 second time span between prepping the cow and attachment of unit, the machine vacuum will be pulling at the teats with very little milk flow until the letdown actually occurs. This can cause teat end damage. Additionally, if units are kept on much longer than 4-5 minutes (to get that very last bit of milk), the machine vacuum will again be pulling on the teats and further damage to the teat ends will occur - if not visually then microscopically. I am now convinced that whenever I see rough teat ends throughout a herd, it is due to improper udder preparation and/or milking the cows too long. At times it may be due to wide vacuum fluctuations at the teat ends, but probably the main cause is simply improper milking routine. Roughened teat ends (teat damage) increase cell counts and mastitis. In the winter time, chapping will compound this problem and regardless of how ‘soft’ a teat dip you use, the damage occurring due to improper milking technique will not be overcome. Please note - if you have never have any somatic cell count or mastitis problems and you prepare udders to milk other than discussed here, stick with what you are doing but keep this discussion in mind if problems occur.  

            When there is teat end damage, the teat’s natural barrier to keeping germs out of the teat canal is diminished and various bugs can then establish themselves within the teat canal, which will cause a reaction within the cow, which results in higher somatic cell counts as the body tries to fight off the infection and eventually clinical mastitis. However, not all mastitis is necessarily bacterial, although the vast majority is bacterial because of the environment that cows live in and milk in the udder is an excellent growth medium. Mastitis itself simply means inflammation of the udder and can be due to bacterial, physical or chemical causes. Dr. Tikofsky also mentioned that dipping twice daily for two weeks after dry off and for two weeks before fresh is important since the teats’ natural barriers are fully functional during those time periods and germs can enter.  

            When we culture cows, we are generally seeking to determine if the bug is an environmental or contagious organism. The contagious ones, Strep ag and Staph aureus live in the udder or on teat skin and are usually spread during milking. They can be cultured from bulk tank samples fairly easily. When bulk tank somatic cell counts are continuously high (400,000-700,000) it is often due to contagious mastitis organisms. Mycoplasma is also contagious but is more difficult to culture from bulk tanks. The environmental ones, Strep non-ag and coliforms can make for really sick cows, especially the coliforms (E. coli, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Nocardia, etc.) and usually affect fresh cows or just dried off cows that leak milk, are on damp surfaces or are in filthy environments and have filthy udders. By using DHIA to identify the cows that are high (linear SCC of 5 or higher), we then can use a CMT paddle to identify the quarter to culture. If there is a contagious problem, milking procedures need to be evaluated and discussed. If it is an environmental problem, hygiene plays a larger role.  

            In any event, the relationship between the cow, her environment and the bacterial organism involved needs to addressed. The cow’s resistance is critical. Is the nutritional plane providing correct energy, vitamin E and selenium and correct calcium: phosphorus ratio? Is vaccination used (this is especially helpful in reducing severity of a coliform infection)? Is there lameness? Cows that are lame lay down more often and the teats come into contact with the ground for longer periods of time. Dr. Zadoks pointed these issues out and also mentioned how new DNA sampling at Cornell can further identify bacteria that are isolated from milk samples (even separate animal from human sources). High somatic cell counts and mastitis are certainly a reflection of many background factors coming into play.  

            In addition to these points, using a quarter milker to keep bad milk out of the bulk tank is a smart move. (Hopefully someone someday will make a stainless steel quarter milker to keep inspectors happy!). I have seen dramatic reductions of high SCC cows by using Immunoboost™ (Vetrepharm), if not due to staph aureus. In addition, Biocel CBT™ (Agri-Dynamics), a colostrum-whey product, is giving very good results for many farmers and can be used IV if needed. For hot, inflamed quarters, using Uddermint™ is helpful early on for a day or two. Sometimes infusing 3% hydrogen peroxide (60cc) or hypertonic saline (60cc) and stripping out in 30-60 minutes can be of benefit. If not using dry-off tubes, use of the Immunoboost™ should be considered since its duration of action is about two months. During my talk I also presented DHIA data showing that organic herds have virtually the same somatic cell count profiles as conventional herds.  

            Dr. Welcome said that organic farms may sometimes be found to have milk with growth inhibitors. Apparently, after a cow has clinical mastitis, the cow’s own lactoferrin and lactoglobin are increased and can cause this phenomenon. Molds in silage are more of a remote possibility.

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