OSaM, Southern Belgium observatory for udder health

In 2001, the “Observatoire de la Santé Mammoire” (OSaM) was formed in Southern Belgium. The group was designed in response to the elevation of somatic cell counts (SCC) in herds registered to Dairy Herd Improvement programs. OSaM is a collaboration between the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege and the Walloon Breeding Agency.

The group’s first test was the creation of an SCC herd analysis form for farmers. Quickly, they realised that they faced multiple and complex factors, and began to work on tools for improving the udder health status on Walloon dairy farms. Between 2005 and 2007, OSaM led a large eco-pathological study that recoded more than 400 variables on 350 Walloon dairy farms. After the usual risk factors for high somatic cell counts were identified, an information campaign was kick started to improve milk quality, mastitis and good dairy practices.

Later, OSaM headed the LAECEA project, a project aimed at developing a tool to bring together vets and farmers. During the course of the project, also called the Udder Health File (UHF), it was observed that vets and farmers constantly avoid discussion on udder health. They do so because of a lack of available data and a lack of time for analysis, along with other sociological factors.

UHF gathered information from several sources, including production and demographic data, bulk milk SCC and clinical mastitis data. Later, OSaM built a pilot study of some 60 farms from which more than 3,000 clinical mastitis treatments were collected. It should be noted, though, that UHF assessed both at the clinical and sub-clinical levels. Since the decision to cull affected cows appeared difficult, the group focused on the economic impact of each at cow at the herd level. Each cow received an udder health economic impact in euros.

Since 2011, OSaM took on another big task: trying to break down the walls between farmer, vet and technician by enhancing communication. They did this by creating an informative blog, www.udderhealth.be. The blog can be read in four languages: French, Dutch, German and English.

Today, OSaM is still actively communicating with the dairy world in Wallonia and has succeeded in reducing overall SCC. Mastitis, however, still remains the number one cause of antibiotic treatments on dairy farms.

“We strongly believe that a multidisciplinary approach between vets, engineers and technicians as is achieved by the OSaM is itself a successful tool against mastitis,” said Dr. Leonard Theron of the University of Liege’s Ruminant Clinic.