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of Udder Health
This article was first printed in the July - August 2002 issue of the Organic Broadcaster, published by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
Almost everyone is aware of the basic management practices that are the foundation of animal health in general and udder health in particular. In this article I would like to explore several often overlooked principles and procedures that have a strong influence on udder health.
Care of the
After this period of preparation, just quit milking her. She must have a tight udder for about five to six days for her hormonal system to get the message to quit producing milk. Milking her out to relieve the pressure and discomfort before this time is up only prolongs the process.
After about five or six days, when the udder swelling begins to recede, sanitize the teats and milk out some milk. Normal appearing milk indicates a healthy udder. If this is the case, completely milk-out the udder, sanitize the teats and rejoice in the knowledge that for now at least the udder is healthy.
Occasionally at this time the milk will show abnormalities such as chunks, clots, watery, slimy, bloody streaks or anything that does not look like normal milk. In that event, milk out the udder, begin your treatment of choice and rejoice that you have discovered the problem before it gets worse. Continue the treatment, check the milk and strip out the udder every few days for as long as necessary to clear up the problem. If you let her go completely dry while she has an infection, she will almost certainly have the same problem when she freshens.
If drying-off was accomplished successfully, the next critical time for the udder begins about two to three weeks before freshening and continues until a week or so afterwards. When the cow begins to "bag-up" and has a tight udder, sanitize her teats, milk out some milk and examine it. Early in the "bagging-up" phase, normal secretion will usually resemble a clear amber fluid somewhat like honey and progress from that to regular milk as she gets closer to calving. If normal, be happy.
If the secretion is not normal chunks, clots stringy, slimy or bloody milk her out completely and begin your favorite treatment. Continue to milk her twice a day until she freshens. This "pre-milking" procedure will save many udders that would normally be lost if the infection was allowed to go unchecked all the way to calving. Research at Cornell University indicates that pre-milking results in approximately a 50% reduction in mastitis and an equal reduction in cases of milk fever. There is some evidence that pre-milked cows have easier calving and less problems with udder edema.
It is not unusual for a pre-milked cow to produce 50 to 60 lbs of milk per day before calving. The colostrum is that special secretion produced right at calving. Thus, the milking right before calving will be much reduced in volume, darker, thicker and with the typical appearance of colostrum. Save this milk and the milk from the milking right after calving and give it to the calf. It will provide all the protection it needs even though the volume will be less.
These procedures provide a way to check the status of the udder at key periods during the dry period and allow you to begin remedial action if and when a problem occurs. If you follow these procedures you will know 100 percent more about udder health than those that only infuse with antibiotics at dry-off and then wait until freshening to see if it worked or not.
Of Udder Health
Culture reports will not be meaningful if the samples are contaminated. If the germ that ends up in the tube comes from your hand or from a teat that was not properly cleaned, you could be misled into thinking it was the organism causing your problem. Contaminated samples are worse than no sample at all. Results of culturing must always be correlated with symptoms. If an animal has been treated with antibiotics in the previous 10 to 14 days as the results will usually be negative.
Almost any bacteria can cause mastitis under certain circumstances, but most mastitis is caused by Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Escherichia coli and Enterobacter (Aerobacter) aerogenes. It is not known why at times these bacteria become virulent but stress is certainly a factor. If a high percentage of samples reveal the same pathogen, this is presumptive evidence of a cause and effect relationship between the pathogen and a specific environmental influence. These relationships are not absolute but they do provide clues about where to look first for answers. The following guidelines may help you match your problem to it's cause.
Staphylococcus--Staphylococcus bacteria have the ability to invade living tissue. Any physical damage, however slight, to body tissues opens the door for Staph infection. Of all the bacteria, Staph seems to have the greatest ability to quickly become resistant to antibiotics. Confirmation of this lies in the high incidence of post-surgical, antibiotic resistant, staph infections in humans. This condition is even known as "a hospital staph infection".
In dairy situations,
two common causes of injured tissue that may lead to a Staph infection
are improperly adjusted milking equipment and the use of irritating
teat dips. Frostbite, stepped-on teats and other injuries may also
be predisposing factors. Don't overlook the possibility of trauma
just because you milk by hand. Hand stripping or milking entirely
by stripping with wet hands can also damage the teat lining and
open the door for Staph infection.
Streptococcus--Streptococci are not generally invasive but live on the surface of the udder tissue and in residual milk that is always present in varying amounts in the udder. Strep infection is generally seen when good milking techniques are lacking. It can also be associated with stray voltage or any other problem that interferes with milk let-down.
If you have an ongoing problem with Strep infection, look first for anything that interferes with "let-down", "milk-out" or anything else that increases residual milk.
Escherichia--Escherichia coli, known as the manure bacteria, is found in all feces. Thus, mastitis caused by this bacteria is usually associated with unsanitary conditions. Some observations seem to indicate a higher incidence of E. coli when the ration contains excess protein, high levels of nitrates in feed or water or the addition of urea or other NPN's to the ration.
If you have an ongoing problem with E. coli infection, look for anything that causes unsanitary conditions and check the water for nitrates and the feed for nitrates or excess protein.
Enterobacter--Enterobacter (formerly Aerobacter) aerogenes is often related to contaminated drinking water, especially if animals have access to unsanitary water tanks, ponds, streams or puddles in the barnyard. If you have an ongoing problem with this infection, first check for the possibility of a contaminated water supply.
Some laboratories report E. Coli, Enterobacter and other Gram-negative simply as "coliforms". If a culture report lists any of these, I would strongly suggest culturing the water if you have not already done so. If the water is contaminated, remedial action should be taken at once.
Pseudomonas--Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a soil-borne organism that is often associated with the animals drinking surface water or water that has been contaminated with the effluent from septic systems or drainage fields. It is occasionally cultured from water systems in dairy barns, hot water tanks and even in some user-prepared teat dips. A mild pseudomonas infection may only show a rainbow colored oil slick in the filter sock. Symptoms can range from that to sudden death.
Corynebacterium--Corynebacterium pyogenes mastitis is usually called "yellow pudding" mastitis, as that term adequately describes the udder contents. It usually has a bad odor. This bacteria can usually be cultured from "hock-abscesses" in dairy cows and is a common cause of abscesses in goats. This germ is sometimes named Arcanobacterium pyogenes or Actinomyces pyogenes
Klebsiella--Klebsiella pneumoniae and other species can cause an acute, "hot" coliform type mastitis that can result in death in a short time. Symptoms usually include high fever, watery bloody milk, off feed and dehydration. Klebsiella infection is often associated with the use of fresh, damp, soil contaminated sawdust for bedding.
Treat The Cause, Not The Effect.
Simplistic medical thought encourages us to treat the bacterial infection--the effect--while holistic principles would have us zero in on the cause, which is usually a stress-induced immuno-suppression.
I question whether anything should ever be infused into the udder, except possibly as a last resort. Even under the most sanitary conditions, the risk of introducing pathogens into the udder far outweighs any anticipated benefit. If one must infuse the udder, use a blunt infusion cannula and only insert it about one-fourth inch (just past the teat sphincter). Inserting the cannula to the full depth--almost an inch in some cases--is known to cause internal damage to the teat lining. Never use an injection needle.
Also consider this: any foreign substance (honey, egg-whites, lactobacillus cultures, other folk remedies and antibiotics) introduced into the udder will act as an irritant and cause a non-specific inflammatory response (NSIP), with a concurrent increase in white blood cells. The common result is that the NSIP will sweep away any mild mastitis infections along with the foreign substance that originated the NSIP. I believe it is a mistake to speak of these irritants as "cures" when actually the relief from the symptoms of mastitis is a secondary effect of the body ridding itself of the foreign substance. This is not to say that these therapies are not often effective, but I believe it is helpful to know the actual mode of action and the great risk of causing a more severe infection.
One of the best ways to treat mastitis is to strip out the affected udder as often as you can even as often as every 15 to 30 minutes if possible. This has the effect of removing bacteria and their toxins, reducing swellings and improving blood supply. You can augment this procedure with your favorite alternative immuno-stimulant such as homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture, refined colostrum antibodies, massage with warming liniments, hot or cold compresses, etc.
Whatever the nature of the treatment used, it will usually be unsuccessful until the adverse predisposing factors are removed. When that is accomplished the incidence of clinical mastitis and the need for treatment diminishes dramatically.
Richard J. Holliday received his DVM degree from University of Missouri in 1959 and conducted a private mixed practice in northwest Missouri for 25 years. For the last 17 years he has been employed as a Technical Services Veterinarian by IMPRO PRODUCTS, Inc., a company that produces and markets holistic animal health and nutrition products for dairy cattle. Dr. Holliday became certified as a Veterinary Acupuncturist in 1988 and was President of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society for a 2 year term from 1992 to 1994. Holliday has been actively involved in promoting organic agriculture and holistic veterinary medicine for over 35 years. He believes that his interest in these concepts began when he was 14 years old and read Louis Bromfield's books "Pleasant Valley" and "Malabar Farm". Richard and his wife Ruth have been married for 47 years and have 3 daughters and 14 grandchildren.Return to TOP