Reduce Mastitis to increase herd health and the farms bottom line

Published 16 June 15

Mastitis remains one of the most challenging endemic diseases affecting dairy cattle in GB and worldwide both in terms of the cost to production and the welfare of affected cows. This article describes some of the costs associated with mastitis and outlines why the AHDB Dairy Mastitis Control Plan is an effective tool in the control of mastitis and is a way to save 2-3p per litre in some dairy herds.

Money spent on things like purchased feed, fuel and medicines is felt directly by producers, the true cost of sub-optimal health and production is more difficult to appreciate despite the large impact it has on overall profitability of a dairy enterprise. With the financial challenges many dairy farmers face, there has never been a more critical time to review and manage spending on GB dairy farms.

The current average incidence rate of clinical mastitis is between 47-65 cases/100 cows/year. Bradley et al., 2007. The Veterinary Record 160: 253-258.

AHDB Dairy-funded research has led to the development of the AHDB Dairy Mastitis Control Plan (DMCP), an evidence-based, collaborative approach to mastitis control which is proven to be very effective. DMCP Deliverer, Pete Down a qualified vet is currently doing his PhD on assessing the impact of different management interventions on the incidence of mastitis in herds that have participated in the DMCP. In 2012 Pete began a PhD exploring the cost-effectiveness of on-farm interventions aimed at reducing mastitis in dairy cows.

Cost of mastitis

The total cost of clinical mastitis is made up of several different components such as milk discard, reduced yields, increased culling, drugs, increased labour and other veterinary costs. It is clear that the magnitude of these losses vary between farms meaning that ‘average’ values for mastitis costs are often misleading and may actually be a barrier to optimal decision making. The cost of clinical mastitis typically lies somewhere in the range 1 - 6ppl of total milk produced on farm and this therefore reflects a massive difference in the room for investment in mastitis control on different farms. It is vital therefore that individual farms take the time to calculate what mastitis is likely to be costing them specifically when considering preventive strategies and fortunately this can be done quickly and simply using the DMCP cost calculator.

Subclinical mastitis, as measured by somatic cell count, is associated with increased culling, discarded milk and reduced milk yields with a typical loss of 0.5 litres of milk/day for each twofold increase above 50,000cells/ml at individual cow level. As with clinical mastitis, the total cost of subclinical mastitis will vary between farms but is likely to be in the range of 0.15-2.4ppl of milk produced - this can also be calculated using the DMCP cost calculator.

AHDB Dairy Mastitis Control Plan

The DMCP was launched in 2009 after it was shown to be effective in a research trial that ran from 2004-2006. It is delivered throughout GB by specially trained vets and consultants (details are available on the website) and once a ‘plan deliverer’ has been contacted (often your local vet) the following steps are taken:

Farm data examined

  • Milk recording and clinical mastitis data for the last year will be reviewed by the plan deliverer
  • The data will be analysed in detail for patterns of seasonality and diagnosing whether the majority of infections stem from the dry period or the lactating period and whether infections are mostly from the environment or spread from other infected cows (milk samples may also be submitted for bacteriology at this stage).

Farm visit

  • A structured on-farm survey will be undertaken by the plan deliverer
  • All areas of the farm will be looked at and management practices observed including milking.

Action plan

  • The collected data and information from the survey will be evaluated and a list of specific action points generated
  • The most important actions will be given top priority
  • Discussions between the plan deliverer and the farmer will then take place to go through the action points and decide how best to implement them
  • A plan of action will be discussed and a date for review agreed, usually three months after the initial visit.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to effective mastitis control and the DMCP requires sensible judgements to be made to ensure it meets the individual farm’s needs

The DMCP provides a clear route to examine the costs of mastitis and to weigh up the potential cost-effectiveness (return on investment). The key benefits of the plan are – it’s evidence based, meaning the plan is based on the most up to date mastitis research, it’s tailored to each individual farm, tools are provided for plan deliverers to make farm-specific calculations of current mastitis costs and the potential savings after implementing the control measures.

The DMCP has been found to reduce clinical mastitis by 20% after one year and this was closer to 30% for herds that fully complied with the plan. Significant reductions were also seen in the new infection rate as measured by somatic cell count meaning that overall herds save thousands of pounds by implementing the DMCP. It is recognised it’s not possible to eliminate the costs associated with mastitis altogether as regrettably it’s difficult to achieve a zero level of clinical mastitis cases but the evidenced gathered suggests controlling mastitis has a positive impact on herd health and the bottom line.

Visit the website for DMCP plan deliverers information.

DMCP-Key Features