Look at my sick dairy cows

Cows in hospital paddock

Cows in hospital paddock

These cows look fine but they’re in the hospital paddock because they have mastitis. It’s an infection of the udder that can be caused by bugs out on the farm, stress or some form of “mechanical damage”, like a bump or malfunctioning milking machines.

Sadly, it’s been a big problem for dairy farmers in southern Victoria this season. Very wet conditions are the perfect breeding ground for the bugs, which include e. coli and staph. Our cows have not been immune and the co-op’s milk testing showed up increased levels of white blood cells – a sign that the cows are fighting infections.

Our first step was to look for cows with the classic symptoms: hot, firm quarters and clots in the milk. We do this routinely but we stepped it up a notch, closely examining every single cow and her milk in one night. We found a couple of cases but not enough to explain our herd’s elevated cell counts, so there was nothing for it but to carry out a spot herd test.

To do this, we divert a little milk from each cow into sealed tubes for analysis at the lab. They tell us which cows have high cell counts but can’t identify the bugs. So, yet another sample was taken from each of the high cell count cows, frozen and couriered to yet another lab. Four days later, we have the results and vet Amy has created a treatment program for each of the cows!

They’ll stay in the hospital paddock, though, until their course of treatment is complete and the milk tests free of antibiotic residue.

10 thoughts on “Look at my sick dairy cows

    • Could well be true, Beeso. Another of the causes is over or under-milking and I suspect it’s easier to get it spot-on if you’re hand milking.


  1. By the way, don’t anyone be alarmed by the red on their udders – it’s just paint we’ve sprayed on so they can be easily identified for treatment and as a warning not to put their milk into the vat.


  2. Can completely understand you on this one!!

    Whats causing the infection??
    We have had a strep uberis (spelling?) outbreak, and despite doing everything possible, we are still struggling with high cell counts.. we herd test monthly now, and monitoring with instream-mastitis detectors, and also purchased one of those hand-held mast-de-tect things, which is great!

    One thing we noticed, is that when we started teat sealing as well as dry cowing – that our cell count came up when those cows came into the dairy. But then we have also had the wettest winter/summer/winter in history, and only now we are starting to dry out on farm after a long 18 months..

    Beeso – hand milking would, as Marian said – help prevent over and under milking, which can often be the case on farm – and which is a BIG problem on our farm. One cow might have a light quarter, or a heavier quarter, and is milked accordingly .. ive found we have had issues with our worker, where he will remove cups earlier from slow cows to reduce the amount of time they spend in the shed – then when one of us takes over.. we have to ensure the cow is milked 2x as long so that the quarter is milked out properly – but then the other quarters can be “over milked” .. its a constant juggle!


    • We have strep uberis too, Jess, as well as staph, E. coli and a new one to the vet, Serratia. The lab subjected our cultures to different antibiotics and found that Alamycin was effective on most but we are using Mamyzin on the staph.

      Why did you decide to get the hand-held as well as your instream detectors?


  3. The susceptibility to mastitis can run in families, do you keep breeding records of who is out of who, and can you find a trend to enable you to cull out persistant cows or families.


    • Yes, that’s a very good point, thanks Fred. We only have a handful of five-year-old cows (who would otherwise be in their prime) because they were very susceptible to mastitis. Dad used to select just one AI sire per year and the impact on an entire generation was extreme.


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