Norman Beggs is a veterinary surgeon based in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. M2 magazine spoke to Norman about his work with dairy farmers on udder health.
M² Magazine: In your day-to-day work with dairy farmers what are the biggest issues that they face with regard to animal health and mastitis control?
Norman Beggs: The single biggest issue in mastitis control is reducing primary sources of infection in the herd. In my experience, control of the cow’s environment, nutrition and milking routine are the activities most commonly found to be sub-optimal in herds with poor udder health as measured by either clinical case rate or bulk milk somatic cell count. In particular, I often find the management of the cubicle stalls and calving pens for dry cows to be sub-optimal. By analysing milk recording and clinical case data using TotalVet software (developed by Dr Andrew Bradley of University of Nottingham), I am able to focus the herd owner’s attention on the often substantial costs of clinical and sub-clinical mastitis specific to his or her herd and focus their attention on the management activities which will reduce the primary sources of infection that are specific to the herd at that time.
M²-Magazine: Where does udder health and mastitis come on the “most important” list that includes nutrition issues, reproductive issues, bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and lameness?
Norman Beggs: I believe that good udder health is an essential cornerstone on which any dairy producer builds a successful business. In herds where udder health is poor, profits are depleted by excessive culling rates and replacement rearing costs, loss of production and loss of bonuses for milk quality. These hidden costs are not always immediately visible to the herd owner, so he or she will not be aware of the negative effect on farm profitability that sub-optimal udder health is having. Most herd owners think that the cost of discarded milk forms two thirds of the cost of mastitis in their herd. In actual fact, discarded milk contributes only 5% to the cost that mastitis incurs in a herd. Increased culling rate, reduced milk production in clinical and sub-clinically infected cows and lost milk quality bonuses together make up 80% – 90% of the cost of mastitis in a herd. When I use TotalVet software to calculate the cost of mastitis in a herd, the herd owner is often surprised to find that mastitis may have cost the farm business several tens of thousands of pounds (or Euros) in the previous year. The other problems mentioned may be costing the business less, but are more visible to the herd owner. These include losing large numbers of cows as bTB reactors, labour costs of extra bTB tests, lame cows, or barren cows where there are fertility problems. My aim at Udder Health Solutions is to use data analysis and motivational discussion to improve the udder health and reduce antibiotic use in every herd that I work with.
M²-Magazine: At what level of bulk milk somatic cell count (SCC) or at what number of clinical cases of mastitis should an individual farmer be seeking help and advice?
Norman Beggs: In my experience any herd with a bulk milk SCC in excess of 150,000 cells/ml, or a clinical case rate of more than 25 cases/100 cows/year will benefit from evidence-based, farm specific management advice based on analysis of individual cow SCC results and clinical case records.
M²-Magazine: And what should the farmer be aiming to achieve as regards SCC and clinical mastitis cases?
Norman Beggs: Bulk milk SCC (BMSCC) is a very blunt and often inaccurate measure of udder health, because many herds with BMSCC results of less than 150,000 cells/ml can have poor udder health caused by excessive numbers of clinical cases. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as the lactation new infection rate, fresh calved infection rate and dry period cure rate are much more sensitive criteria that can be used to achieve targets of a clinical case rate of less than 25 cases/100 cows/year and a BMSCC of less than 150,000 cells/ml. All of the herds that I have worked with have initially had clinical case rates or BMSCC well in excess of these figures prior to seeking help from Udder Health Solutions. They are consistently better than these targets today as a
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