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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care November 2013

Hi Folks,

Breaking news - the first PhD for studying the non-antibiotic treatment of mastitis has been awarded to Keena Mullen at the North Carolina State University. She was awarded her PhD on Tuesday Nov 5th in Raleigh, NC after successfully defending her thesis “Evaluation of Herbal Oils in Various Preparations for Treating Mastitis in Dairy Cattle”.  Her main advisors overseeing her research activities were Steve Washburn, PhD (Dept of Animal Science) and Kevin Anderson, DVM, PhD (College of Veterinary Medicine).

Dr. Mullen spent the last four years immersed in the work both on farms and in the laboratory. Her focus was on the non-antibiotic treatment for drying-off cows. She completed 4 projects towards her PhD degree:  
1) Comparisons of milk quality on North Carolina organic and conventional dairies
2) Effect of two herbal intramammary treatments in cows on milk quantity and quality compared with conventional and no dry cow therapy
3) Efficacy of an herbal intramammary product and a teat sealant in cows, both alone and in combination, when used as dry cow therapy
4) An in-vitro (laboratory) assessment of the antibacterial activity of plant-derived oils

In the study comparing milk quality on organic and conventional dairy herds in North Carolina, it was found that there was no significant difference between somatic cell count scores and no significant difference between sub-clinical mastitis. Additionally, there was no significant difference in the prevalence of various germs between the organic and conventional farms. This study involved taking a lot of milk cultures and laboratory analyses and surveying the farmers for what they were already using for dry off.

Her early work in applying experimental natural treatments utilized the 150 head dairy herd at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in Goldsboro, NC. For a few years already, the dairy herd has been essentially managed as two herds - one half being managed conventionally while the other half is managed organically (not certified).

The safety and potential milk residue of using Phyto-Mast® was established at NC State by studying its use in lactating dairy goats (McPhee, 2011). Dr. Mullen went on to enroll privately owned, certified organic dairy herds in North Carolina to test Phyto-Mast® in the field at dry-off. Another natural product, Cinnatube, advertized as forming a teat plug, was also studied on its own and in combination with Phyto-Mast® (to approximate the conventional dry-off treatment of antibiotic + teat plug). The results showed that Phyto-Mast® on its own gave had the most positive effect on milk quality between dry-off and freshening as measured by somatic cell count. Cinnatube showed the least new infection rate. 

The next study was to determine if Phyto-Mast alone is as effective as the conventional teat sealant, or if the two work synergistically when used together. From the lactating goat study, it was already known that the essential oil of thyme (the active ingredient in Phyto-Mast) persists in milk for only 12-24 hours in lactating goats (McPhee, 2011). The thinking followed that Phyto-Mast would be most effective right at the time of infusion. To prevent germs from getting in during the dry period, the conventional teat sealant, made of bismuth subnitrite, would also be studied. This conventional teat sealant is not currently allowed for certified organic use in the US, but it is allowed for certified organic use in Canada and Europe. Remember that the herd at CEFS in Goldsboro is managed as two herds: conventional and organic (but not certified organic). In this study, the cure rate against germs was best for the Phyto-Mast and teat sealant combination: 78% cure! There was a 40% cure for using either Phyto-Mast or the teat sealant alone and only a 9% cure when no treatment was used at dry-off. Environmental staph (coagulase negative staph) was the germ killed most.

In the final project, the anti-bacterial qualities of each individual ingredient of Phyto-Mast were studied at different strengths as well as in different combinations. While the active ingredient in Phyto-Mast is essential oil of thyme (thymol), the other ingredients (wintergreen, licorice, and angelica) were also studied for possible antibacterial effects, even though they are part of the formula for their anti-inflammatory and pain relief. The results showed that while licorice, wintergreen and angelica have some antibacterial effects, they vary and are difficult to interpret. However, there was clear evidence of the bacterial killing ability of the essential oil of thyme (thymol) at ≥ 2% concentration.
Some of Dr. Mullen’s final conclusions from her research are: (1) there is a need for mastitis treatments for organic dairies, (2) Phyto-Mast and Cinnatube have no apparent negative effects on milk production or quality (3) Phyto-Mast, Cinnatube and Orbeseal are more effective at preventing new infections than no dry cow therapy (4) one ingredient of Phyto-Mast, thymol, has significant antibacterial activity.

Dr. Mullen’s work looked primarily at non-antibiotic treatment for dry off. This kind of work is much needed, for the most recent nationwide survey of dairy farms (USDA NAHMS, 2007) found that 90% of US dairy cows are treated with antibiotics at dry off (the other 10% assumed as organic or going that way). Being there are about 9 million dairy cows in the US that means 8.1 million animals being treated at dry off with antibiotics. It is common knowledge that conventional cows are infused with antibiotics at dry-off without thinking if they truly need antibiotics or not. Talk about building up antibiotic resistance!  When society is asking the agricultural livestock sector to be more careful in using antibiotics - to use them only when truly needed - Dr. Mullen’s research is both timely and quite welcome, demonstrating that non-antibiotic treatment for dry-off should be considered by both organic and conventional dairy farms.   


Keena Mullen with cowlet at CEFS
dairy farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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