The importance of good hygiene during the housing period

Good hygiene over the housing period is of the utmost importance to reduce the risk of cows contracting mastitis infections.

Mastitis in cows is almost always caused by bacteria that have gained access to the udder through the teat canal.

During the dry period – which has already come around for some cows in the herd – bacteria can only enter the cows’ udder from the environment. For example, from the soil, manure, contaminated bedding or faeces.

Most vulnerable after drying off

Cows are particularly vulnerable to acquiring environmental infections in the first couple of weeks after drying off.

The reason for this is because the process of teat end closure takes time to complete after drying off.

The keratin plug that naturally forms after dry-off takes approximately two weeks to form and completely seal the teat end.

The use of teat sealants effectively imitates the role of the keratin plug. However, not every teat end retains a teat sealant and their loss can leave the cow vulnerable to acquiring a new infection, according to Teagasc.

Periods of highest risk and principal bacteria causing environmental mastitis during the dry period. Data source: Teagasc

How to minimise mastitis risk

Cleanliness

Keeping the cubicle house in which cows are housed during the winter months is critical to ensuring cows’ udders are kept clean. This will help to minimise the risk of bacteria entering cows’ teat ends.

Regular cleaning of cubicles, passageways and yards is a must during the housing period. Really and truly, cubicles and passageways should be cleaned twice a day.

Most cubicle sheds are fitted with automatic scrapers so it’s vital to make sure that they are in good working order before cows are housed.

For those that use straw-bedding, make sure to replenish it regularly as to avoid having cows lying on dirty straw.

Keep Dry

Bacteria thrive in wet and damp areas, so ensuring that housing facilities are kept dry is essential.

Good ventilation is key to ensuring sheds don’t become damp and stuffy. Most modern sheds are well ventilated; however, those that are housing cows in older sheds may need to make some alterations.

As already mentioned, keeping cubicles clean and dry is of the utmost importance. Cubicles should be regularly cleaned and limed. Aim to clean twice a day.

Those that bed cows with straw will have more of a challenge in keeping cows dry. Again, regularly cleaning out dirty straw and replacing it with fresh straw is a must. In many cases, it will have to be done every day.

Cow Comfort

Finally, and probably the most important aspect of housing animals, is cow comfort.

Each cow should have a cubicle to lie in and a place to feed. As well as that, a mat should be fitted on each cubicle – which is the case anyway on the majority of farms.

If there aren’t enough cubicle spaces for the cows, it can lead to udders and teats becoming contaminated with faeces causing an increased risk of infection.

Moreover, overstocked sheds can put stress on an animal, lead to bullying, cause a decrease in production and decreased intakes – due to a lack of feed space.

Also, putting stress on animals – due to overstocking – can cause a decreased immunity resulting in increased infections.

Unfortunately, on some farms, there is always one if not two cows that just won’t lie in a cubicle space – even though there is space for them – and instead will lie on the passageway. That’s the joys of farming I suppose.