The results Tony achieved from working with Farm Medix on a nagging mastitis problem exceeded all his expectations. In Tony’s own words, “Farmers should know about this!” Here’s the story of how Tony regained control of his farm.
Tony farms a 300-jersey cow farm in Matamata, Waikato. His cell count had been excellent at around 80 000 for a long time but had gradually increased to concerning levels. By late January 2023, his somatic cell count (SCC) level had been lingering around 250 for several months, while the number of mastitis cases steadily increased, averaging 13 cases per month. The situation was spiralling out of control, with January reaching a staggering 27 cases.
“I was offered more of the same approach that had not worked for me so far.
But when Farm Medix presented an alternative strategy, I decided to give it a chance.”
Despite seeking guidance, Tony’s efforts to combat the problem had yielded no improvement. His patience was wearing thin, leaving him wondering about what to do next. “I was offered more of the same approach that had not worked for me so far. I was a little deflated and I was looking at cancelling our holiday again. But when Farm Medix presented an alternative strategy, I decided to give it a chance,” recalled Tony. Eager to turn the tide, we wasted no time and got to work.
Our advice was to start with a comprehensive evaluation of Tony’s herd and farm through our innovative Snapshot® assessment. On February 2nd, our partner FILGEA came to the farm to pick-up the sample and collect farm information for analysis. This evaluation allowed us to identify and address underlying issues causing mastitis, preventing them from escalating further.
Combining our dairy farming expertise and unique microbiology diagnostics capabilities, we uncovered problems that even the most trained eye would have struggled to spot. Teat-end damage was extensive, and our assessment indicated suboptimal teat disinfection coverage. Moreover, the Snapshot® confirmed a significant Staph. aureus issue within the herd, which partly explained the elevated and escalating bulk tank SCC levels, and a number of the clinical cases Tony had been grappling with.
To address the teat-end damage, we recommended adjustments to the automated cluster removal (ACR) timing and take-offs, ensuring cows were not overmilked. Additionally, we highlighted the importance of thorough post-milking teat disinfection to Tony who retrained his staff about its crucial role in preventing mastitis. Our partner, FILGEA, assisted on the farm, helping with the adjustments recommended in the Snapshot®, adding their own expertise of milking systems and teat care products to our analysis.
Given the Staph. aureus issue, we advised Tony to use an iodine-based teat disinfectant with added emollient and suggested conducting a Herdscreen®. Herdscreen® involves testing each cow in the herd individually for Staph. aureus using our simple and cross contamination free sampling method, and the cutting-edge technology we use at our laboratory in Hamilton.
“Doing the herdscreen® wasn’t “hard” or “work” – what is hard work is mastitis!”
Sampling for the Herdscreen® was carried out on February 9th with the help of the FILGEA area manager, adding just one hour to the milking routine with a team of five. Results were available within 48 hours. The Herdscreen® revealed 37 Staph. aureus positive cows. Tony described the process as more of a seamless, one-off task rather than arduous work, emphasizing that the real struggle was combating mastitis itself. “Doing the herdscreen® wasn’t “hard” or “work” – what is hard work is mastitis!”
Following the recommendations from the Snapshot® and Herdscreen®, Tony implemented all the necessary changes. He segregated the Staph. aureus positive cows and milked them last to prevent further contamination of the healthy herd. This careful management of the Staph. cows as a separate herd allowed Tony to keep them in the vat, avoiding milk loss while ensuring they didn’t compromise his healthy cows.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this problem would stop. We haven’t had a single case of mastitis in the clean herd since the Herdscreen®.”
Within the first two months, the number of mastitis cases plummeted from 27 to a mere two cases, all confined to the Staph. aureus herd. Furthermore, the quantity of treatment (antibiotic and anti-inflammatory) decreased from 128 doses in January to just seven in April. Tony couldn’t believe the remarkable transformation, stating, “We haven’t had a single case of mastitis in the clean herd since the Herdscreen®. From what we did, I didn’t believe what you said would happen, but I thought that even if it worked 30-50% as well as you claimed, I would be very happy. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this problem would stop.”
Although the bulk tank SCC level only saw a slight decrease from 250 to the low 200s, it made economic sense for Tony to retain the Staph. aureus herd in the vat. With the knowledge he gained from the Herdscreen®, Tony knew that the situation was contained and under control, providing him with a clear path forward to reduce his SCC level.
Working alongside Tony not only brought him relief but also allowed us to confirm the significant impact Staph. aureus has on milk quality and compliance. Analysing Tony’s herd test data before implementing any changes revealed that his Staph. herd had an average SCC level of 532, compared to 242 for the non-Staph. herd. This pattern of Staph. herds experiencing twice the SCC level of non-Staph. herds had also emerged in several other farms we had collaborated with and the reason Staph. herds may experience elevated bulk tank SCC levels. It is evident that controlling Staph. in dairy herds is crucial to reaching milk quality objectives.
Additionally, we discovered that over 13% of cows with SCC below 150 were carriers of Staph. aureus, more than enough to perpetuate the contagion cycle within the herd. “I went against my Vets advice to do this- they told me all the Staph cows would have high SCC” commented Tony. “Staph. aureus is everywhere, even in low cell count cows. The only way to regain control is to test every single animal in the herd.” Says Natasha Maguire, our Chief Scientific Officer, firmly supporting this approach.
“Farmers need to hear about this.”
With his animal health situation resolved, Tony finally found the peace of mind to go on a well-deserved holiday. The knowledge that he had regained control instilled a renewed sense of motivation within his staff, encouraging them to maintain their dedication and hard work.
Having weathered a tumultuous season, Tony decided to blanket dry cow the entire herd this year and opted to keep some of the Staph. cows. Before reintegration into the main herd, the Staph. cows will be tested using Fresh Cow Dry Cow® to ensure they cleared the infection. Following our recommendations, any new cows will also be tested to preserve the integrity and cleanliness of the herd. Tony’s resolute conclusion was clear: “Farmers need to hear about this.”