Milk recording is an excellent tool for farmers to monitor mastitis in their herd.

By milk recording your cows regularly, you can easily see what is happening within your herd such as the problem cows or top performers.

This information may make you realise that you could be producing as much milk with fewer cows.

By now, we are all aware of the new veterinary medicine regulations.

Ultimately, this new legislation is about protecting antibiotics and doing all that we can to make sure antibiotics remain effective in both humans and animals.

While antibiotics may still be used therapeutically, for example to treat mastitis, they may not be used to prevent infection.

This will change how farmers use dry cow antibiotic, in particular, as it can no longer be used in cows without evidence of infection.

To get the best value from milk recording, the first of the recommended six milk recordings should be done within two months of calving

This is why milk recording is so important, now, more than ever.

For a veterinary practitioner to be able to prescribe dry cow antibiotics, they will need individual cow information that has been collected from every cow during their lactation.

To get the best value from milk recording, the first of the recommended six milk recordings should be done within two months of calving and the last recording within a month of drying off, with the remainder spread out during the rest of the lactation.

Following each recording, along with each individual cow record, a two-page CellCheck summary report is provided showing the areas of excellence, and those that need attention.

The aim should be to have at least four stars in each area

Briefly, this report is divided into four main sections and there is a star rating and recommended target levels for each of the key areas of mastitis control. The aim should be to have at least four stars in each area.

  • The first section includes a graph displaying the current and recent SCC for your herd and also shows the percentage of your herd with an SCC of greater than 200,000 cells/ml (target is to have less than 15% of herd over 200,000 cells/ml). These cows are likely to have mastitis and if a high proportion of your herd is over 200,000 cells/ml, this indicates a problem in your herd and these animals are spreading infection to healthy cows, making the problem worse unless it is addressed.
  • The next section on the report shows the spread of infection during lactation by assessing changes in individual cow SCC levels during lactation. By comparing consecutive SCC levels in each cow, the percentage of recently infected cows can be identified and also the proportion of the herd that is persistently infected. The target here is to have less than 7% of your herd recently infected and less than 8% persistently infected.
  • The third section of the report shows the herd SCC distribution in different SCC brackets and a higher proportion (target of 85%) with an SCC below 200,000 cells/ml, means better mastitis control. This section also analyses data from herds that record clinical cases on ICBF. If you upload your clinical mastitis records to ICBF (or via some farm software packages) it will help to identify a mastitis issue that originates from the dry period, or one that happens throughout the rest of the year.
  • The final section shows how effectively mastitis is being controlled during the dry period and at calving, for cows that have been recorded within 60 days of calving. It is split into cows and heifers so it is easy to see if there is a problem in a particular group. The report shows how effective the dry period was by looking at cure rates during the dry period and it also identifies any cow that picked up a new infection during the dry period.
  • A wide range of resources are available to help farmers analyse the milk recording information and should be availed of, as failure to act on the results limits the potential benefits from milk recording.

    A new CellCheck dashboard has also been developed and once the farmer has given permission to their veterinary practitioner or adviser, they can view the milk records on the ICBF website, allowing them to help farmers with their mastitis control plan.

    The more information we can gather on each cow during the lactation, the better prepared we will be when it comes to cow selection for selective dry cow therapy at the end of their lactation and also the more efficient and profitable our herds will be.

    SCC prevention tips

    1 Monitor the number of clinical cases occurring, as this is an indicator of the hygiene in the calving and housing environment. If your knees are wet after kneeling in their pen, it is not dry enough for calving cows.

    2 If more than 5% of your cows or 15% of heifers have mastitis in the first month of calving, you should investigate.

    3 Wear gloves at milking and ensure that all cows are checked for the first eight milkings. Look for changes in milk colour and consistency, including yellow-brown or creamy colours, blood, clots, lumps, flakes or watery milk.

    4 Transition milk (milk from the first eight milkings) should not be included in the bulk tank. Check all cows with a California mastitis test (CMT) before including them in the bulk tank, to identify cows with subclinical mastitis. Missed clinical and subclinical cases dramatically increase the bulk milk SCC. Exclude any with a positive CMT result for an extra two to four milkings. Discuss the need for treatment with your vet – some of these cases may self-cure.

    5 Record all clinical cases on a blackboard or whiteboard during milking and transfer at a later date to a more permanent record. Ideally, send the information to ICBF by texting Mast and cow’s freeze brand to 089-4577663, eg if cow number 200 has mastitis, type Mast 200.

    6 Collect milk samples (aseptically) from clinical cases before starting treatment to build up a profile of the bacteria in your herd and what antibiotics are likely to work. Samples can be frozen for three months allowing a number to be sent to the lab together.

    7 Don’t forget to teat-spray properly: it’s the best way to prevent new infections and reduce SCC, reducing the bulk tank SCC and resulting in more profit for you!