Monitor udder health to make decisions

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Why should we spend time and money collecting and processing information about udder health? That's a question a lot of producers ask. And the answer is: "It pays to do so."

Monitoring is useless unless you use it to make meaningful, economically significant decisions. And that's what producers need to do in order to improve and maintain high milk quality. In the past year, I've encountered some real-life examples in which a limited investment in monitoring paid off. I'd like to share them with you:

Individual cow SCC

A producer had spent considerable time and money investing in a Total Quality Management program for milking procedures. After six months, the bulk tank somatic cell count (SCC) had not dropped and the program looked like it would be abandoned. Milkers were disappointed that the extra work had not paid off in bonus checks associated with lower SCCs. The owner was frustrated that he had spent money on meetings and training, and had lost parlor throughput.

Was the program a failure? No, it wasn't. But it took examining individual cow SCC records to see what was happening. By asking the right questions, it became clear that the rate of new infection in milking cows had dropped noticeably at the time the procedures had changed. The high bulk tank SCC was due to high infection levels in fresh cows (later found to be a hygiene and facility issue). The TQM milking program was saved, dry cow management improved, and milk quality improved.

Clinical mastitis cases
A second producer was concerned that clinical mastitis and culling rates for chronic mastitis were too high. Should he reconsider his decision to eliminate intramammary antibiotics for treatment of mild clinical mastitis?

Analysis of clinical mastitis records showed that while antibiotics were used to treat clinical cases, only 25 percent of the cows had a second case in the same quarter. When treatment was discontinued, more than 70 percent of the cows experienced recurring infections, and culling for mastitis more than doubled. Culture results showed that most of the clinical mastitis cases - before and after cessation of antibiotic use - were caused by environmental strep. Re-initiating the antibiotic treatment improved the situation once again.

In a similar herd, the intramammary infection rate at freshening had increased drastically. The percent of mature cows that had a low SCC at dry-off - and high SCC at first test after calving - jumped from less than 10 percent to more than 40 percent.

After discussion with the herdsman, we discovered that the dry-cow antibiotic had been changed two months before the increase in fresh-cow problems. Clox-acillin was being used, and fresh cows had a high rate of infection with environmental strep. (Cloxacillin is not intended to treat or prevent environmental strep.) However, it was an examination of the records that told us where to look for the root of the problem. Without them, we would have been shooting in the dark.

Culture records
A producer with excellent milk quality and biosecurity was experiencing a problem with severe clinical mastitis in fresh heifers. He had heard that antibiotic treatment prior to calving could be very effective at curing infections. We agreed that research on pre-partum treatment has proven consistently successful and economically justifiable in some situations.

Before making this recommendation, we reviewed first-calf heifer culture results that were available as part of an ongoing biosecurity program. We discovered that 80 percent of the heifer samples contained E. coli. Since antibiotics are targeted primarily at gram-positive organisms - and E. coli are gram-negative bacteria - pre-partum treatment was not recommended. Instead, the core vaccine program and corral hygiene were re-examined and changes were made that corrected the problem.

Monitoring pays
All of these decisions were made quickly, using existing farm records. Each of these farms collect monthly individual cow SCC, clinical mastitis data by quarter, reasons for culling, and culture results for all fresh heifers and purchased animals as part of their monitoring programs. In each case, examining the records and taking action from that information paid off.

Marguerita B. Cattell is a consulting veterinarian in Fort Collins, Colo.

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Disease Spotlight

As part of the Swine Health Producer Guide, the National Pork Producers Council, American Association of Swine Veterinarians and Pork Checkoff have complied a number of important actions to take once a PEDv has been confirmed on your site.

These actions include communication, containing the virus to your site, stabilize the site, manage lactation, and make biosecurity a priority.

Click here to read the full guide.

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