Strategy for improving cow udder health results in reduced antibiotic use

An Irish dairy farmer’s strategy for improving cow udder health has ultimately led to better performance, less disease and reduced antibiotic use.

Thomas Maguire farms 160ac at Drumscridian, near Crosserlough, Co. Cavan, where he milks a high-yielding herd of 70 Holstein Friesians.

As well as producing heifer replacements, Thomas runs Hereford and Limousin bulls with the herd to produce beef calves which he sells as stores at around 18 months.

Regular milk recording in the milking herd identified two cows with somatic cell counts (SCC) in the millions. There were regularly treated with antibiotics but each time the mastitis returned.

“When the swelling doesn’t fully leave them you know they are going to get it again,’’ says Thomas.

Treating with antibiotics also meant withholding milk. There was the obvious consequential loss in milk sales but it also increased labour in the milking parlour, says Thomas.

It was a lot of hassle; it prolonged milking because we had to catch the milk from the cows that had been given antibiotics and then wash out the unit so it extended the time the cows were in the parlour.

“Cows didn’t like waiting so they would lift their tails and that would give us more work to do.’’

‘All but one cow’

Thomas decided to take another approach, by bolusing the cows with Maycillin. This udder health system manufactured by Mayo Healthcare releases allicin, an active substance in garlic.

Allicin is used in bolus form in several countries as an alternative to antibiotics in both clinical and sub clinical challenges. This approach worked as the SCCs in the cows he bolused reduced from the millions to under 200,000 cells/ml.

Maycillin worked on all but one cow, says Thomas. “Mayo Healthcare doesn’t advertise them as working on every cow so we expected this; we had one that it didn’t do anything for but the success rate with the other cows was very impressive.’’

He now makes bolusing cows with recurring mastitis a regular job. “There is one cow in particular who gets mastitis every year so I bolused her after she calved, before she had any mastitis, and it has kept her cell counts low.’’

Thomas calves in the first week of February and aims to turn out in mid-March, or earlier if weather conditions allow. The herd is housed on November 1.

The herd produces an annual milk yield average of 8,000L at 4% butterfat and 3.45% protein with milk sold to Lakeland Dairies.

Thomas says the disease reductions have benefited the farm financially.

“It costs me €150 for a five-pack of Maycillin which seems a lot for five cows, but it works so you can’t put a figure on it,’’ he says.

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