Mastitis monitoring in Germany

Effective mastitis control reduces sub clinical and clinical mastitis rates based on lowering new infection rates. Such a sustainable improvement of udder health reflects on social needs, as well as on economic aspects of modern animal health management. Among German dairy herd production disorders, mastitis is responsible for the largest disease-related economic losses. This is due to its prevalent character. In addition, the largest share of antibiotic consumption on a farm arises from this infection.

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Dairy farmers perceive increasing mastitis problems differently and in order to mitigate a mastitis problem, herd-individual approaches are mandatory. All approaches are connected to new decisions and to attitude changes. Works on communication in udder health found that attitude changes in farmers and veterinarians are dependent on different aspects, including rules and regulations, education, social pressure, economics and tools. Effective programmes should focus on all of these aspects. A good mastitis control concept should start (and follow up) with a systematic herd analysis, based on milk recording data and/or clinical mastitis data, cytomicrobiological outcomes and the analysis of standard operating procedures: breeding, housing, feeding, milking, culling and treating. Also important is the availability of reliable data and science-based interpretation. Based on this, farmers and vets can develop farm-specific objectives and will be able to monitor progress. These ideas brought us to the development of some simple science-based tools that attempt to reflect on most aspects.

We started four years ago with a larger transfer project in Germany called “milchQplus” (Healthy udders for sustainable milk production). The umbrella organisation of the dairy herd improvement organisations in Germany, the largest dairy herd improvement laboratory and the microbiology group of the University of Applied Sciences Hannover worked together on this project.

Currently, 48,000 farms make use of the dairy herd improvement service. Some 3.7 million animals – or 90 per cent of all cows in Germany – are recorded under the project. The aim of the project is to help practitioners make evidence-based therapy and management decisions that reduce the prevalence and incidence of mastitis by introducing and using indicator figures based on milk control results.

 

Key figures for mastitis control

For this project, we used dairy herd improvement data to improve three important aspects, communication, complexity and continuity in the daily routine. Stated key figures of udder health at farm level are not only a help for experts, but they also serve as an objective basis of communication between farmers, consultants and veterinarians to identify actual problems (udder health bottle-necks) in an ongoing manner.

Four years later, the project is completed, and the key figures can be found for every farm in the dairy herd improvement reports (Table 1). Due to the federal structure in Germany, key figures are presented differently in the individual federal states (online, printed, etc.). However, the calculation is carried out in all federal states according to the same principle based on a common guideline. For the first time it is possible to make dairy farms, regions and countries comparable with regard to the subclinical udder health situation. So far, Germany-wide data on the key figures have been published once (Table 2). Udder health specialists, veterinarians and agricultural advisors use the data.

Tabel 1 The key figures in milchQplus

1.      Proportion of “udder-healthy” animals: The first key figure is the proportion of “udder-healthy” lactating animals (< 100,000 somatic cells/ml in last dairy herd improvement sampling) on all lactating animals in a herd. This “global” key figure indicates if udder health problems exist and if the udder health should be taken into focus by the herd manager and the veterinarian. Farms with a good to very good udder health reach a value of app. 70% of “udder-healthy” animals.

2.      Proportion of incurable animals suffering from mastitis: This key figure is the proportion of incurable animals suffering from mastitis (3 x > 700,000 somatic cells/ml) on all lactating animals. This figure should be as low as possible. The value should be < 1%. However, since a long-life span of the animals is a goal, a balance between culling and productive life span has to be found on the base of this key figure.

3.      New infection rate in lactation: This figure is the proportion of animals with > 100,000 somatic cells/ml in the last dairy herd improvement testing and ≤ 100.000 somatic cells/ml in the previous dairy herd improvement testing on all animals with ≤ 100.000 somatic cells/ml in the previous dairy herd improvement testing. Good farms reach a value of at most 11%. This figure allows the evaluation of the quality of cleanliness, hygiene, husbandry and milking procedures.

Two key figures help to evaluate the effects of the dry period on udder health and one to evaluate the udder health in fresh heifers.

4.      New infection rate in dry period: This figure is the proportion of animals with ≤ 100,000 cells/ml in the last dairy herd improvement testing before drying-off and > 100,000 cells/ml in the first dairy herd improvement testing after calving on all dried-off animals with ≤ 100.000 cells/ml in the last dairy herd improvement testing before drying-off. Good farms reach a value of at most 15%.

5.      Cure rate in dry period: This figure is the proportion of animals with > 100,000 cells/ml in the last dairy herd improvement testing before drying-off and ≤ 100,000 cells/ml in the first dairy herd improvement testing after calving in all dried-off animals with > 100.000 cells/ml in the last dairy herd improvement testing before drying-off. In good farms the value should be higher than 70%.

6.      Heifer mastitis rate: This figure indicates the importance of heifer mastitis in a herd. It is the proportion of heifers with > 100.000 cells/ml in the first dairy herd improvement testing on

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