In May of 2017, 13 udder health experts from 10 European countries met for the 10th European Mastitis Panel (EMP) in Gdansk, Poland. The purpose of the meeting is to create an independent and knowledgeable discussion platform that exchanges mastitis related information between European countries. The meeting brings together mastitis researchers, field practitioners and others related to the field of mastitis.
Each year the panel is held in a different country, which provides attendees with the opportunity to learn about dairy production in a new setting. This year, attendees were invited to learn about production in Poland.
Dairy production in Poland
Currently, some 230,000 Polish milk producers raise 2.1 million dairy cows. The average producer has just nine cows; however, this is not reflective of all Polish dairy farms, as some milk as many as 2,500 cows. The largest farms are found in the north and near the
German border. Of the 2.1 million cows, just 760,000 are involved in the national milk-testing scheme.
In recent years, Poland’s milk sector has developed at a rapid pace. Fortune, a dairy farm in Pomerania, provides a good example of this. Currently, the farm milks 1,100 cows, but both the number of cows and the amount of milk they produce is on the rise. Each year, Fortune produces approximately 11,500 kg of milk, well above the national average of 8,000 kg/year. Clinical mastitis is a big problem on the farm, though, with 40–50 cases surfacing each month.
The farm’s employees practice proper hygiene by wearing disposable gloves, pre-dipping with iodine, intermediate disinfecting, and dipping after milking. However, the working routines in the milking parlor are inconsistent. In addition, there is a lack of reliable information on critical control points in the herd. Bulk tank somatic cell counts (SCC) are, on average, 250,000 cells/ml. Herd manager Renata Gurbowicz-Nowak and the four zoo technicans work hard to keep those numbers down. Zoo technicians are unique to Poland. They are not veterinarians, but instead are trained to take blood samples in animals.
Many Polish dairy farmers see much higher SCC counts, though. The Cichon Zygmunt plant in Masuria, for instance, struggles with this problem. On average, their 125 cows produce 10 liters less than Fortune farm, but somatic cell counts are significantly higher, fluctuating between 600,000 and 900,000 cells/ml milk. Twenty per cent of herd cell counts were higher than 1,000,000 cells/ml. The problem is that there is no instruction available for the milker, making it difficult for them to recognize when udders are infected. If they do notice the problem, they often do not know what to do.
Simple measures lead to great success
Milk quality can be improved by implementing a systemic control program, said veterinarian Dr. Kamil Kossakowski. He was able to prove this on one Polish farm. The farm, which milks 450 dairy cows, housed cows in an old barn on straw. The herd performed below the national average, producing just 7,300 kg of milk per year. The farm struggled with an S. aureus issue, which had been ignored for years. At times, somatic cell counts in the herd reached 1.2 million. By improving management practices, Kossakowski was able to reduce antibiotic uterine tubes from 8,013 in 2013 to just 670 in 2016. Improvements made include protecting bedding from excess moisture, installing new milking units, making changes to milking practices, and using antibiotics at dry off. Incurably diseased cows should be taken out of the herd.
After four years under better management, Kossakowski was able to lower somatic cell counts to 250,000 cells per ml. During that time annual production also increased to 10,429 kg. Milk quality, he says, can only be maintained in the long term if the newly introduced management measures are consistently used.
“Udder health is an ongoing process,” he concluded.
Selective drying at the EU level
Across the EU, selective dry cow therapy and the use of antibiotics differs from country to country. In Germany, for instance, farmers are not obligated to use selective dry cow therapy. As a result, only an estimated 15 per cent do not use antibiotics. It is expected, however, that this will change by the end of the year.
“We currently have the best udder health in our history,” said Professor Volker Krömker of Hannover University of Applied Sciences.
However, the trend towards longer life is a challenge for udder health. In the future, diagnostic tools will be more prevalent on farms and quicker results should lead to a reduction in antibiotic use. Incurably sick cows will no longer be treated with antibiotics.
“Clinical mastitis remains the main problem in Germany,” said Krömker.
In the Netherlands, selective dry therapy has been mandatory since 2013. All cows that have less than 50,000 SCC and heifers below 150,000 are dried without antibiotics. This has led to a 30 per cent reduction in antibiotic use. New infection rates, however, have risen to 16 per cent without antibiotics rather than nine per cent with. Recent results indicate that the cure rate without antibiotics can be as much as 77 per cent in the dry season. This is comparable with the cure rate of those dried off with antibiotics.
In EU countries, obligations to lower antibiotic use vary from country to country. Experts believe, though, that management measures can further reduce the use of antibiotics. Management strategies include improvement in milking and hygiene, more data analysis and interpretation, the use of teat sealants and intensive initial therapy.
Under the coordination of Prof. Gerrit Koop of the University of Utrecht, the European Mastitis Panel has launched a research project to look more closely at S. aureus strains. He would like to find out how they differ in their pathogenicity (subclinical, clinical) and see whether there are differences in toxin production. So far, the collection contains 240 S. aureus strains from 10 different countries. Initial results are expected at the next EMP meeting, which takes place in May 2018 in Budapest, Hungary.
Text - Marion Weerda