Paul milks about 600 cows through a large herringbone dairy in Northern Victoria.
The farm’s Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) and number of clinical cases of mastitis had been climbing steadily throughout the wet winter and spring, and it was failing to respond to everything the farm team had tried.
In our initial discussion with Paul, one sentence described the level of frustration and exhaustion for everyone on the farm – “We have hit the wall!!!”
The last significant in-season drop in the price of milk to suppliers was in 2008, and that doesn’t take a long memory to recall – it is hardly ancient history!
The price drop in 2008 triggered a range of responses, some of which produced significant lessons which shouldn’t be forgotten.
In terms of milk quality and mastitis control there are three lessons that should probably be recalled now to avoid history repeating itself.
Some years ago, Streptococcus agalactiae (Strep ag) was a relatively widespread cause of mastitis in the Australian dairy industry.
It was then commonly known as “Contagious Mastitis”, due to its ability to spread rapidly in a herd.
Because cure rates for treatment of Strep ag are remarkably high, the widespread uptake of antibiotic dry cow therapy into a seasonal milking system nearly eradicated Strep ag from many regions of Australia.
However the trend towards both split and year-round calving, combined with widespread movement of cattle as herds have been sold and disseminated, has seen Strep ag begin to re-appear as a significant cause of mastitis in Australia.
Wouldn't it be fantastic to think that mastitis could be a thing of the past!
Unfortunately that is unlikely to be the case any time soon.
Realistically, while we still milk cows, we are going to have to accept a level of mastitis – both as clinical cases and as high cell count cows (sub-clinical cases).
This means that mastitis is an ever-present risk - that is why at Dairy Focus we think of mastitis as a risk, and our goal is to make a farm "Low Risk" for mastitis.
But how much clinical mastitis is too much?
It is now October, most of the spring herd has calved, you've done silage, and you may have done one, or maybe two herd tests since the start of calving.
So, is there anything to worry about?
Well, maybe there is a group of freshly calved cows that you've seen on your herd test with high cell counts! Or even worse, it could be some first calf heifers with high cell counts!! All that work rearing these heifers, and now they are infected!
What can be done? Should these cows & heifers be treated?
We recently had a final year veterinary student, Emma Liersch from Charles Sturt University, doing some of her practical placement work with us at Dairy Focus.
It's been about 6 years since Countdown's last estimate of the cost of a clinical case of mastitis, so to give Emma a project as part of her work with us, we gave her the task to research and recalculate this cost.
Emma enthusiastically worked her way through the various cost elements, researching each using the available science and also industry contacts such as factory field officers, vets, etc.
The end result is that, not surprisingly, the cost of a typical clinical case of mastitis has risen in the last 6 years – up from $230 in 2007, to about $270 now in 2013.