Why is cows tipping a thing

Udder infections are a common disease in cattle. The health problems can affect the entire herd and consequently lead to considerable economic losses on farms. We spoke to Dr. Raphael Höller, specialist veterinarian for ruminants and owner of the veterinary practice Höller Vet in Wallsee.

Doctor Höller, you are an experienced cattle practitioner and are out and about on farms every day. Why is mastitis so common in dairy cows?
Mastitis is a factor disease that occurs again and again in herds when the risk factors such as milking technology, stall management, milking work, drying off management or feeding do not fit. Although the farm knows that it has udder health problems, often no root cause research is carried out. But if you don't get to the bottom of why one or more cows have mastitis, then you can't change anything for the better. If the factors are not processed, no change occurs. In the case of udder health problems, it is not enough to give just one medication - there are many influences that favor the development of mastitis: The barn management, the milking technology and the environmental conditions play a massive role in this. It also happens that farmers underestimate the situation and call the veterinarian late when the disease of an animal is already well advanced or the herd is already affected. It is therefore important that the treating veterinarian educates farmers about the importance of farm management. If this is optimized, there are fewer udder problems.

How many cows or farms do you look after?
I am a cattle practitioner in the Mostviertel, which is one of the most dairy-dense regions in Austria. Our practice - three veterinarians and occasionally interns of the ruminant module from the Vetmeduni Vienna - looks after around 120 farms that have dairy cows. The majority of them have an average of 35 to 50 cows, but there are also some with only ten or even 100 cows.

Does mastitis often have population problems?
Yes. Let me explain it this way: If you have four cars and two of them are not drivable, then you drive the two that work until they are no longer drivable. It is very similar with cows: if a farmer has a lot of cows and some of them have udder problems, this is not as important as if a farm has only a few cows. The farmer often only calls the vet when a large part of the herd is affected and the system tips over. Udder health is my hobby. I already did my dissertation on this subject with Professor Winter, the current Rector of the Vetmeduni Vienna. I then also specialized in this subject in my veterinary practice and have been a cattle practitioner for 14 years. I am also called by colleagues if there are problems relating to udder health in a farm so that they can solve the problem together. From my practical experience I can say: Always work through the factors, first find the cause and then give targeted therapy. The point is to get the management and the factors under control first - then targeted therapy can be initiated.

Streptococcus uberis as a trigger of mastitis - how does it come about?
To an infestation with S. uberis It often happens when farm management is not optimal or the barn is overcrowded. For the cows, this usually means stress, poor hygiene and a bad immune system.

How do you best treat this?
First, an antibiogram must be made using a bacteriological milk sample to determine the pathogen. S. uberis can usually be treated well with penicillins in long-extended therapy over five to seven days. In addition, the barn management - keyword hygiene - and the milking management must be checked, especially if not just a single cow, but the herd is affected. This includes improving stall hygiene with special attention to the lying areas, monitoring milking hygiene, better teat cleaning and dipping the teats so that no germs can penetrate the teats between milking times. It is also beneficial to feed the cows after milking so that the teat canal has enough time to close - around 30 minutes - before the animals lie down.

How do you treat cows that use the automatic milking system?
Essentially no different. It is also important here to control the technology of the milking robot. The pulsators must work properly and the teat cups must be disinfected regularly. On average, there are 2.8 to three milkings a day with the automatic milking system, depending on the farm. Hygiene between milkings and the dipping or spraying of the teats are essential.

Reserve antibiotics are still widely used in the treatment of mastitis. Why?
Because they work - and because sometimes you can't avoid them. Reserve antibiotics cover a broad spectrum and with some drugs you have a shorter waiting time for milk and therefore less milk loss. As an example, a Coli-Mastitis - this is often treated with reserve antibiotics in daily veterinary practice. But if you look at studies on the subject, you can read that 90% of all udder infections can be treated with penicillins. In our practice we try to treat with penicillins as often as possible. We are increasingly relying on the Nordic mastitis strategy, which is a form of treatment in which one completely dispenses with antibiotics and instead works with NSAIDS and infusion therapy or drench - this is, however, quite time-consuming; you have to be familiar with it and you have to be able to explain it to the farmers. I only had a case like this three weeks ago: the farmer wanted us to treat without antibiotics and we used anti-inflammatory drugs. The cow has recovered well with it.

What is the best way to prevent mastitis?
The most important thing is optimal operational management. Talking to the farmer is very important. I always try to convince people why udder hygiene and stable hygiene are so important. A good basis for discussion between the farmer and the veterinarian is essential. If that doesn't work - if the farmer doesn't follow the recommendations and doesn't change anything - the whole thing doesn't make sense. Then there will always be udder infections. In such a case, as a vet, it is better to keep your hands off it than if you are with S. uberis If you don't pay attention to the predisposing risk factors - especially milking and cubicle hygiene - and only treat the cows with medication, that's a drop in the ocean.

What general recommendations do you have for colleagues in relation to mastitis?
As I said, good cooperation between the farmers and the veterinarian is very important. The veterinarian should make the farmer aware of the importance of functioning farm management. He should also give him tips and suggestions for improvement and point out that a one-off action is of no use. There must be consistency behind the measures in order to achieve lasting success. I have already seen farmers think they can stop the improved hygiene measures when the cell counts are back to satisfactory levels. Especially in summer, when the farmers are busy working in the fields, some milking steps are reduced. Of course, that makes no sense, because then there is a setback - the cell count rises again and you promptly get the next mastitis into the stable.

I can only recommend talking to the farmers. There are now many young farmers, especially young women farmers, who come from other professions and for whom a lot is new territory. They are grateful if you take care of them, explain the risk factors and give them tips on feeding. The young farmers then also implement this. You shouldn't come down to people from above, you should have a conversation with them on an equal footing and above all stay human so that the other can accept it too. Listening is also very important. Cattle practice always means stress, always full throttle - but you have to listen to everyone, otherwise it won't work. If there is no time for a conversation, you should make an appointment where you have time to explain. This is of course time-consuming, but it brings a lot. As a cattle practitioner you have to be resilient.

Fire brigade actions bring something in the short term, but in the long term, consistency and optimal management count. When the company is in the renovation phase, you have to accompany it, send in milk samples, etc. Most of the companies are with the LKV. Thanks to the milk yield controls, the farmers can keep an eye on the number of cells themselves, so they can follow the development. It is important to make them aware of this. In the end, everyone involved should be satisfied.