DAIRY - Somatic Cell Counts and Reducing Bacterial Challenge

1 Sep 2016

Keeping cattle housed poses its own challenges in terms of bedding cleanliness, microbial challenge and udder health. The first indication of a possible microbial challenge on farm is elevated somatic cell counts (SCC), the majority of which are white blood cells produced in ever increasing numbers in milk as an immune response to a bacterial challenge within the udder. As SCC starts to increase so too does the risk of mastitis. Subclinical mastitis can be present in the herd with few, if any symptoms present in most cows. Because the majority of bacteria are transmitted through parlour units or contaminated hands and bedding, the Five-Point plan was devised to provide effective practical advice to reduce and control clinical and sub-clinical mastitis.

Talks also continue over Antibiotic usage in intensive farming practices and it is fair to say we need to continue to find ways of reducing pharmaceutical usage by looking harder at the environment we are operating in. Two areas where we see heavy usage of antimicrobials on some farms would be mastitis and calf health. Whilst there are many changes that can be made to reduce disease incidence in these areas from parlour routine, vaccination, stocking rates, ventilation to whole-sale re-evaluation of shed design, a relatively simple and cost effective means of reducing pathogen burden can be to incorporate a desiccant and antimicrobial product such as Biosuper. This can be applied to straw courts or directly onto cubicles. This product absorbs moisture (the medium in which bacteria move) and also acts directly as an antimicrobial to reduce disease challenge.

If SCCs are still high it is worth focusing on the following areas:

Parlour Service
The milking machine plays a key role in the potential spread of pathogens. Regular maintenance and static and dynamic testing is crucial. Check that ACRs are working properly to avoid over-milking and liners are changed after 2500 milkings or every 6 months.

Milking Routine
Wearing gloves, strip out and examine foremilk for any early signs of mastitis and to stimulate milk let down. To reduce the number of pathogens on the udder and to reduce the risk of cross contamination, it is strongly recommended that teat disinfectant is applied both before and immediately after the cluster is removed and the teat end is still open.

Take swabs to identify what type of bacteria are most prevalent on your farm. This will help your vet identify which course of drug treatment would be best for your situation.

Cow Cleanliness
The warm and moist conditions found in the cattle shed are ideal for bacterial growth, especially when these bugs have access to a ready source of food in the form of dung or leaked milk. Ensure that bedding is routinely changed to avoid bacteria becoming established; routine application of an effective bedding conditioner such as
Biosuper to the bedding. It is safe to handle, absorbs its weight in moisture and drops the bedding pH to 3.7, which is well below the optimum pH 7 required for bacteria to grow. Biosuper contains a natural fly repellent shown to be as effective as DEET and it absorbs atmospheric ammonia that is so damaging to lung health
and pneumonia in calves.

Cow Immunity
Even though we can do everything we can to reduce the environmental challenge facing the cow, we also need to ensure that the cow’s own immune system is strong enough to fight off any infection before it becomes established and to repair any damage done – in both the dry period and during lactation. Key to this is to reduce cow stress, which directly reduces immunity. For this we would recommend Evo, which not only reduces stress
but also dramatically increases intakes in early lactation cows. Secondly it is worth assessing what minerals your cows are getting before and after calving, with particular focus on vitamin E, Sel-Plex and zinc. To identify any mineral deficiencies or imbalance it is well worth getting your silage analysed for minerals. Ask your Harbro
sales specialist about silage mineral analysis and how to get the best out of your cows.

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