Heifers can develop subclinical infections from mastitis organisms before calving. However, the occurrence of mastitis is often not realized until a heifer begins milking and a higher somatic cell count (SCC) is noted (subclinical case) or abnormal milk is found (clinical case). Heifer mastitis threatens udder health, milk production, and milk quality, and increases the risk of premature culling. However, the overall impact of mastitis on the heifer and the farm is dependent on the form of the mastitis (subclinical or clinical), the virulence of organism causing the mastitis, the timing of the onset of the mastitis, and the length of time required to cure the infection.
Do you have a heifer mastitis problem on your farm? The answer is yes if >15% of heifers have clinical mastitis around calving or >15% of all heifers have a first test-day SCC >150,000 cells/mL. Heifer mastitis is a multifactorial disease and typically prevention is based on minimizing cross-suckling in calves, fly control, optimizing hygiene, and providing a comfortable, clean, and low-stress calving environment. In a recent Journal of Dairy Science review article the authors described farm-specific interventions that should be in place on every farm.
10-Point Program to Prevent and Control Heifer Mastitis
1. Improve general udder health management at the farm level to decrease the pressure of infection with udder pathogens from older cows to heifers;
2. Control cross-suckling in calves and young stock;
3. Implement an effective and efficient fly control system;
4. Keep young and primigravid heifers in a clean and hygienic environment and separate from multiparous animals — provide as much attention to this group of animals related to hygiene and cleanliness as is spent on lactating animals;
5. Avoid any nutritional deficiency — monitor vitamin E and selenium levels when any doubt exists, zinc, copper, and vitamin A play a role as well and could be checked;
6. Minimize the risk of negative energy balance before and after calving through appropriate transition feeding systems;
7. Reduce the incidence of udder edema through optimized peripartum management;
8. Minimize stress around calving (e.g., by not moving heifers to the calving pen when already in labor) and minimize incidence of dystocia and peripartum disease;
9. Consider use of internal teat sealants prepartum where a high risk of environmental mastitis exists in the peripartum period;
10. Use prepartum antibiotic treatment in heifers under certain conditions only:
a. under the supervision of the herd veterinarian, within the context of a valid veterinary/client/patient relationship;
b. after quantification of the problem and identification of major pathogens as the cause through culturing;
c. choice of the antibiotics should be based on antimicrobial susceptibility testing;
d. testing for residues before every milk delivery;
e. upgrading of management at the same time — discontinue treatment as soon as new management strategies become effective.
De Vliegher, S., L. K. Fox, S. Piepers, S. McDougall, and H. W. Barkema. 2012. Invited review: mastitis in dairy heifers: nature of the disease, potential impact, prevention, and control. J. Dairy Sci. 95:1025-1040.
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