Heifer mastitis is an issue on many dairy farms, as it has a negative impact on production and udder health in affected animals.

The housing of livestock has begun on the vast majority of farms across the country, with the heavy rain drawing grazing to a close.

Although some animals, such as milking cows, may continue to get access to grass, any youngstock that has been housed is unlikely to return to grass.

This means that most in-calf dairy heifers are now housed for the winter months ahead.

Heifer mastitis

Having a high level of hygiene during the dry period is critical to ensuring that cows and heifers calve down without mastitis or cell count issues.

But unlike cows, heifers do not have the added protection of a teat sealer.

This means that udder infections could potentially be picked up much easier by heifers.

Animal Health Ireland (AHI) recommends that controls are necessary if more than 15% of heifers have a case of clinical mastitis at, or around calving; or, if more than 15% have a somatic cell count (SCC) of >200,000 cells/ml within 35 days of calving.

The first thing that farmers should do is check how many cases of mastitis occurred during early lactation last year, in order to determine how successful their dry period was.

If incidents rates are 15% or higher, changes to the dry cow management used are needed.

Dry period

Ahead of calving, farmers should ensure that stress is kept to a minimum and that first-time calvers and older cows are not mixed.

There should be a focus on keeping the housing in good condition and ensuring that heifers are lying in clean and dry cubicles.

Liming should be used on their cubicles, like it is used on the dry cow cubicles.

Another option to consider is teat spraying heifers with an iodine-based teat spray for a number of weeks ahead of calving. This can reduce the amount of bacteria present on the teat and teat ends.

Heifers should also be trained in the milking parlour before calving so that it is not completely new to them, which should reduce stress levels in the heifers.

If heifer mastitis has been an issue on a farms in previous years, farmers should discuss options with their vet.

By ensuring that heifers are housed in a good environment, the potential of picking up an infection is kept to a minimum.