Mastitis – the answer isn’t in a tube or a bottle

Published 26 April 10

The answer to tackling the mastitis issues on your farm isn't in a tube or a bottle, says vet Andrew Bradley from Quality Milk Management Services Ltd. "It's in knowing where your problem originates from and what the actions are that will have the biggest impact on your situation. Unfortunately mastitis is not a one solution fits all scenario and tackling it is not easy but it is worth it in financial, welfare and environmental terms."

Andrew recently spoke about the DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan to the Forward Farmers discussion group from Staffordshire, in a meeting organised by local extension officer Adam Clay. He also used data from individual farms to pinpoint the mastitis challenges faced by members of the group and discussed drying cows off, the use of dry cow antibiotics and the role of teat sealants.

"The DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan was developed because mastitis is still too common in UK dairy herds," says Andrew.

"Data from a DairyCo funded survey of over 100 UK dairy herds, indicates that on average there are between 50 and 70 cases of clinical mastitis per 100 cows per year, with a quarter of herds selected at random recording rates in excess of 100 cases per 100 cow years. Not only does this have large financial implications but mastitis, both environmental and contagious, continues to have real animal welfare issues.

"We've also seen mastitis change and evolve over the past 40 years following the introduction and wide-spread adoption of the 5-Point-Plan," he explains.  "Environmental pathogens, with the infection being passed from the environment to the cow, are much more common. Many of the strategies that have been adopted to fight mastitis in the last few decades, such as culling trouble cows and improving milking routines, concentrate on cow to cow infection. We need to look at managing the environment better".

"As part of our DairyCo funded research we've identified 350 plus things that are involved in controlling mastitis, but what the DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan does is help us concentrate on the 10 or so factors that are important on an individual farm. It focuses attention and effort on the actions that will make the difference."

 "The DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan will help target mastitis control on your farm," explains Andrew. "Following a thorough investigation of the patterns of disease on an individual unit, it will draw up a list of action points targeted at either the dry or lactating period, with the emphasis being shifted according to whether transmission from cow-to-cow, or environment-to-cow are thought to be important.

"Reduced mastitis levels mean fewer unnecessary cullings and less wasted milk, and it means that fewer animals are needed for the same milk production.  Our milk buyers and more recently our customers are becoming better informed about the problem of mastitis. Addressing the issue with a co-ordinated industry wide approach makes sense.

"Compliance with the DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan is important as it directly affects the potential to reduce mastitis rates on farm. Compliance with the plan has been proven on-farm to cut mastitis by an average of 20%, and much more in many cases."

Cumulative positive effects on mastitis incidences have been seen on test farms beyond the 12 months working with the plan.

The plan is being implemented on-farm throughout the country as part of the national rollout and data on reduction in incidence is due to be gathered in the next twelve months.

Andrew and Forward Farmers also discussed how taking extra care when dry cows off can lead to less mastitis cases well into the next lactation.

"Cows infected at drying off can have a case of clinical mastitis 200 days into milk that is linked to that infection," says Andrew. "You need to know where the source of infection is coming from. The reality is that most cases of mastitis seen in the first month of lactation have their origins in the dry period.

"Don't dry off during milking," suggests Andrew. "Milk her, post dip her and then have her back in afterwards for your full attention. The parlour is a good clean place to dry off but taking the time to do the job properly, in other words not in the middle of milking, will have a positive effect. Drying off is a risk time for introducing bacteria into the udder and the fact it is in the dry period that you should be getting on top of any mastitis problems."

Key Actions:

Andrew ran through his best practise protocol for drying cows off in order to minimise the risk of introducing bacteria.

"Firstly start with a teat clean enough that you'd be happy to put it in your mouth!" he jokes.  "Remove all signs of muck on the teats. Always remember to clean the teats furthest away from you first, followed by the near ones. When you're tubing the cows reverse this order. This reduces the risk of introducing infection by brushing your hands against, and contaminating, clean teats.  Then do the following:

  • Pre dip and leave the udder for 30 seconds before wiping dry
  • Clean the teat with surgical spirit and cotton wool and leave to dry
  • Strip the teat to remove bugs from the milk canal
  • Clean the teat again with surgical spirit and leave to dry
  • Use the antibiotic on all four quarters
  • Clean the teat again, using surgical spirit, if you are going to use a teat sealant


"As a general rule a cow giving 20 litres when she is dried off is much more likely to be infected at calving than a cow dried off at 10 litres," says Andrew. "Do what you can to reduce her yield in the days before drying off. In the summer that might mean keeping her in but it can also mean doing something you were going to do after you dried her off, such as changing groups or changing her diet earlier so the effect will have been seen in her yield before she is dried off.

"Taking real care at drying off can give you huge benefits in terms of reduced incidences of mastitis well into the lactation. It is a benefit that's hard to measure because the problems occur long after the event, but it is definitely worth taking that extra care."

For more information see the plan website at