Preventing mastitis in first-time calvers

Many studies have demonstrated that over 50% of mastitis cases occurring in the first 100 days of lactation are because of infections acquired during the dry period.

Also Read: Preventing mastitis in early lactation

A recent report by George Ramsbottom, dairy specialist with Teagasc, outlined the importance of avoiding mastitis in first lactation heifers.

Heifer mastitis

George highlighted in-calf heifers should be given as much attention as the older cows in terms of hygiene and cleanliness.

Heifer mastitis can be a significant problem for some herds and can threaten production and udder health in the first lactation and in subsequent lactations.

Mastitis in heifers is commonly diagnosed after calving when the animal begins milking and either abnormal milk or an increased somatic cell count (SCC) is detected. Exposure of the teats to pathogens in the pre-calving environment can result in infection before calving.

Heifers that develop mastitis in the first 30 days after calving produce less milk and are likely to be less profitable over their lifetime. Given the substantial costs associated with rearing heifers, it is imperative that mastitis is prevented in the first lactation.

Improving the udder health at farm level will decrease the infection pressure of udder pathogens from older cows to heifers.

Reviewing records

Now is a good time to review milk records from last spring to see what the incidence of heifer mastitis was on your farm.

Controls are warranted if more than 15% of heifers either had clinical mastitis at/around calving, or had a first milk recording SCC of >150,000 cells/ml, when recorded at 15-35 days in milk.

George recommended if these records aren’t available, it is something to focus on this spring, especially if you are concerned about the level of mastitis in your heifers.

Preventative measures

George suggested teat spraying three times per week with an appropriate teat spray for the last two to four weeks before calving has been shown to reduce the number of certain bacteria at the teat ends and the risk of heifers calving with mastitis.

This could be done when parlour training the heifers pre-calving.

Also Read: Have you started training heifers into the milking parlour yet?

Research has shown that teat sealing heifers four to six weeks before calving, if done properly, can reduce the incidence of heifer mastitis in problem herds.

Teat sealers are not licensed for use in heifers in Ireland and should only be done if recommended by your veterinary surgeon. Teat sealant should not be used as a substitute for good husbandry and management of heifers.