Mastitis turnaround yields growth

Friday, 14 February 2020

Identifying when the majority of mastitis infections occurred on his farm helped Austin Russell address underlying issues and realise additional benefits.

Analysing the farm records and milkrecording data using AHDB’s Mastitis Pattern Analysis Tool helped him tackle higher-than-average herd cell counts and too many new cases of mastitis, as well as lifting yields by over 2,000 litres.

Find out more about the Mastitis Pattern Analysis Tool

Following an MBA at the Royal Agricultural University, Austin returned to run his family’s 220-cow dairy herd at Church Farm in Cirencester seven years ago.

In 2017, the mastitis rate was higher than Austin would have liked, with around 60 cases per 100 cows per year, with an average somatic cell count of 200,000 resulting in unsaleable milk and antibiotic costs impacting the bottom line.

Cows showing symptoms were treated with antibiotic tubes and comprehensive data recorded for each animal. However, incidences of mastitis were not falling.

Austin said: “It felt like we were just firefighting, and we weren’t really seeing an improvement in the number of cases of mastitis. We were producing a lot of data but didn’t have the right tools to analyse it to show where mastitis was occurring.”

Two years ago, the farm undertook a health audit as part of a new milk contract, which brought the mastitis issues to the fore.

Vet James Breen worked with Austin to analyse his data, using the Mastitis Pattern Analysis Tool to identify the stage of lactation where most mastitis infections occurred and the potential cause.

The tool showed most infections were environmental and occurred predominantly during the dry period.

At the time, dry and calving cows were housed on deep straw, but despite their best efforts to keep this clean, the results showed it simply wasn’t working.

Austin replaced the straw yard with sand cubicles, kept a small area for comfortable calving boxes, improved ventilation by taking out the ridges in the sheds, provided the dry cows with outside loafing space and improved dry cow antibiotic administration technique. 

“The results were almost immediate,” said Austin. “Before, virtually every other cow would show clots of mastitis within 30 days after calving, now we rarely see any clots – it’s been really impressive.” Cases of mastitis have also dropped to just 10 cases per 100 cows.

Austin has also seen a significant increase in his milk yield, which has risen from an average of 8,500 litres/cow to 10,500 litres/cow as transition cow management has improved.

Vet costs for sick cows and herd antibiotic usage have also dropped. Previously, they operated a blanket approach to antibiotics at drying off. However, as control of herd cell count is much improved and there are less high-cell-count cows at drying off, the move to selective dry cow therapy means Austin estimates dry cow antibiotic tube usage has fallen to just 10%.

Learn more about the QuarterPRO initiative

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Austin discusses how using the Mastitis Pattern Analysis Tool helped him identify when the majority of mastitis infections occurred on his farm.

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