A review of: The effect of management style on udder health

Management styles influence udder health

A review of a paper Presented at the 2003 National Mastitis Council Meeting
by Herman W. Barkema and Ynte H. Schukken

Drs. Barkema and Schukken reviewed dairy farmer management styles that may influence udder health. Their subjects were Dutch dairymen with an average herd size of 50 cows operating under Dutch milk production regulations. Since the early 1970’s the average bulk milk SCC (BMSCC) in The Netherlands has decreased nearly every year and the average in 2001 was approximately 210,000. Much of this has resulted from the adoption and ongoing application of the 5-point mastitis control program.

When low BMSCC herds (<150,000/ml) were compared to mid-level BMSCC (151,000-250,000/ml) and high BMSCC herds (251,000-400,000/ml), several management factors were positively related to low cell counts. Blanket dry cow therapy use was more prevalent, clinicals were treated for a longer period and post milking teat dipping was used more frequently. Other recommended procedures, such as routine milking system checks, were also more typically utilized on the low cell count herds. The bottom line is that dairymen who adopt this approach faithfully over time will see positive results in terms of reduced BMSCC. Whether in fact these programs are used depends on the attitude and commitment of the dairymen and his employees.

There appeared in the study a somewhat paradoxical relationship between very low cell count herds and mastitis. A low BMSCC was associated with a reduced prevalence of intramammary infections which was good. However, there was a relationship between low BMSCC and the severity of clinical cases of mastitis and systemic illness. It was less observable in the high cell count herds. This result begs the question, can cell counts get too low? Possibly in certain instances it can and infected cows cannot react quickly enough to fight off invading pathogens. Similar results are seen on occasion in US herds that have very good mastitis management programs and very low cell counts. Often their complaint is too many severe clinicals.

The researchers classified dairy farmer management styles as “Clean and Accurate” or “Quick and Dirty”. Seventy four percent of the low BMSCC herds were classed as “Clean and Accurate” while 73% of the high BMSCC farms were classed as “Quick and Dirty”. Again the low BMSCC herds had a higher incident rate of clinical mastitis than the high cell count herds and the main causes for the clinicals were Eschericia coli and Streptococcus uberis. No relationship existed between management style and infections caused by Staph aureus or Streptococcus dysgalactiae.

The authors feel these results would apply to most North American dairies. On larger dairies managers must be committed to mastitis management and they have to transfer that commitment to employees so they also feel committed to the same program. Standard operating procedures for milking, treating clinicals, dry cow management must be made and training needs to go on routinely to get the program fully implemented.

Related Links:

The National Mastitis Council


Winston Ingalls

Winston Ingalls
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