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0909 PD: Monitor somatic cell count frequently to determine proper treatment for mastitis

Ken Zanzalari Published on 05 June 2009

More dairy producers need to pay attention to mastitis prevention and monitoring somatic cell count (SCC) more frequently, says Dr. Earl Aalseth, a veterinarian in Lake Stevens, Washington.

He also recommends maintaining a good preventative health and nutritional program year-round.

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In fact, a herd’s nutritional program will directly affect its udder health, says Aalseth.

“We know we can support normal immune response in cows through nutrition,” Aalseth says. “And we can manage udder health through the immune system. Maintaining a healthy immune system can result in less subclinical mastitis, less antibiotic use and fewer cases of clinical mastitis, as well as other diseases.”

Frequent testing – at least monthly, if not weekly – for SCC in the herd or individual cows can be a tremendous tool for identifying subclinical mastitis and for preventing clinical cases. Contagions include pathogens such as mycoplasma, Staph. aureus, Strep. ag and environmental pathogens such as coliforms and Strep. uberis.

Knowing the pathogen helps mastitis treatment
“Tracking SCC levels and collecting cultures to identify pathogens helps us determine the course of treatment. I have dairies that measure bulk tank SCC levels every day,” he adds.

For every 100,000 in SCC, about 1 percent of the herd will be going to the hospital pen on a monthly basis for clinical mastitis. A 1,000-cow herd with a 300,000 SCC can expect at least 30 cows per month to be hospitalized, he says.

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By reducing SCC, dairies can expect financial returns from improved milk quality and production, reduced cull rate, better reproduction, reduced drug costs and reduced costs due to discarded milk, Aalseth says. An SCC variation going from 141,000 to 282,000 can lower milk production by 3 pounds per head per day, he adds.

Measures of udder health include SCC history, milk culture data for types of bacteria and mastitis case incidence rate, including degree of severity.

Aalseth is a proponent of on-farm individual cow mastitis sample cultures. They can determine whether antibiotics will help or not. Gram-positive pathogens will require a mastitis tube, while gram-negative pathogens might not respond as well. And if there is no bacterial growth present, the cow does not need antibiotic treatment that keeps her out of the milking string and can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Reducing SCC through nutrition
In Oregon, veterinarian Tom Holechek counsels his dairy clients to focus on nutrition to support normal immune function, which can help prevent disease and lower SCC.

By following Holechek’s herd health program focusing on advanced nutrition, reducing stress, improving cow comfort, proper hygiene and limiting exposure to pathogens, his dairy herds’ SCCs have dropped from the 250,000 count range to 100,000 to 125,000, he says. Metritis is less frequent or severe, he adds.

“Herd health is an amazingly complex,” Aalseth concludes. “It is far more important and cost-effective to prevent disease by maintaining a healthy immune system, than it is to treat the disease. Maintaining a healthy immune system is one of the dairy producer’s most economically rewarding management tools.”

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Good nutrition helps maintain good udder health
A herd’s nutritional program will affect udder health, says Aalseth.

Conversely, “we also know that an animal’s diet can compromise the immune system if it does not contain adequate nutrition, encourage rumen acidosis or is contaminated with molds and mycotoxins,” he explains, “which can open the door for mastitis.”

A preventive health program for mastitis and other diseases should include a well-balanced diet, a feed management regime that minimizes molds and mycotoxins, vaccines, adequate housing, clean bedding, well-maintained parlors, optimum cow comfort and consistent dry cow antibiotic therapy.

To support immune function for mastitis prevention, Aalseth recommends the following steps.

1. Administer J-series or other similar bacterins (vaccines).

2. Ensure optimum trace mineral and vitamin nutrition intake.

  • Vitamins A and E
  • Trace minerals, selenium, zinc and copper

3. Provide adequate energy and protein.

4. Minimize immunosuppression

  • Manage environmental stress, cold and heat, overcrowding, cow/cow stress
  • Avoid molds and mycotoxins
  • Provide good air quality

5. Optimize dry matter intake with optimum feed, feeding systems and timing.

Aalseth preaches mastitis prevention to his dairy clients, and he says they now focus more time, money and attention on preventing diseases, such as mastitis, rather than waiting for it to progress to the treatment stage. They start with good nutrition and a strong immune system.

“Herd health is amazingly complex,” Aalseth concludes. “It is far more important and cost-effective to prevent disease by maintaining a healthy immune system, than it is to treat the disease. Maintaining a healthy immune system is one of the dairy producer’s most economically rewarding management tools." PD

Earl Aalseth
Veterinarian Dairy Consulting

Ken Zanzalari for Progressive Dairyman

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