Summer Mastitis Prevention and Treatment

Mastitis can be a real pain in the udder, especially during the summer months.  When the weather turns hot and humid it gives the mastitis causing pathogens the needed environment to grow.  Hot and humid weather also adds stress to the cow which leads to a decreased immune function.  You put a better growing environment along with a decreased immune system and you have problems. On dairy cows we see somatic cell count (SCC) go up and increased incidences of clinical mastitis. Beef cows also see increased incidence of mastitis during the summer months out on pasture where it can be harder to treat.  Beef cows are toward their peak milk production for the calf depending on how long ago they gave birth. They are also trying to cool themselves wadding through mud and water and get away from flies by bunching up.  All of that also adds stress to the beef cow decreasing her immune function.

Mastitis can be sub-clinical with just increase SCC but not a noticeable change in milk, udder, or cow health.  Mastitis can be just a change in milk where you have watery milk or flakes or chunks in the milk.  Mastitis can also present like the previous two along with a sick cow or toxic cow.  The treatments for mastitis differ on the severity and we would be more than willing to help create protocols for treatments of the different types of protocols.

The pathogens that cause mastitis can be broken up into different classifications and types. Mastitis can be caused by bacteria, algae and viruses.  We refer to pathogens as contagious or environmental.  Contagious pathogens are the ones that do not survive in the environment but only can survive in the udder or on the teat surface and can get transferred from one cow to the next.  Environmental pathogens are pathogens that are present in the environment and do not cause any issues until the opportunity arises in the cow.  This can be due to decreased immune function or structural integrity loss with the teat ends.  This can also happen when the pathogen level in the environment is really high and the immune system just can’t control it anymore.  The summer months are when this starts to happen because the environment has a better growing condition for the pathogens. The mastitis that we can treat with antibiotics is caused by bacteria and we split the different types into gram negative and gram positive bacteria.  We have different antibiotic mastitis treatment available and different antibiotics treat the gram negative vs the gram positive.  Some of the antibiotics treat both.  We would gladly help you in choosing which product to use to treat the mastitis pathogens you are facing on your farm.

Prevention of mastitis is important all year round but especially during the summer months.  Good milking routines that allow for good milk let down and decreased milking time will help decrease teat end damage leading to hyper keratosis.  Good milking hygiene also helps stop the spread of pathogens into the teats and spread from cow to cow.  Stall hygiene is especially important during the summer when pathogens can easily grow in the stalls.  Making sure manure and urine are scrapped out often and completely along with adequate bedding amounts in the stalls during these months is important.  A clean dry stall helps stop the growth of pathogens in the stall as well as helps keep the cow’s udder clean and dry.  Watch the cow’s movements to and from the parlor and try to avoid areas where there is accumulation of manure and water that will splash up onto the teats. Controlling flies and heat stress will help keep cows from bunching.  Spraying dairy barns for flies and having a fly control program on pastures will help decrease bunching and stress from heat.  Having adequate shade and wind speed is another aspect of trying to eliminate heat stress in both beef and dairy cows. Make sure the ration is covering all the needs of the cows during the summer with the correct amount of energy, protein, and minerals so that their immune system can function to its maximum capacity.

The summer is often a time for vacation for us but the cows don’t ever take a vacation and are in hyper drive during the summer with the added stresses of heat and flies.  There are several ways to help prevent mastitis and also several treatment available.  We are glad to help with different strategies to help treat and reduce mastitis.

By: Dr. Brett Kroeze