Animal Health

Teat-sealing heifers eliminates mastitis

By Stephen Cooke

Rob and Jan Mortlock have all but eliminated mastitis in their heifers after taking part in a teat- sealing trial.
The Mortlocks, who milk 850 head at Yanakie in south Gippsland, teat-sealed 150 heifers last year and 118 this year and recorded one case of mastitis.
They plan to teat-seal 270 next year and 350 the following year.
“We have teat-sealed cows before but not heifers,” Mr Mortlock said. “It proves it’s worth doing.”
The teat-sealing trial was run by Zoetis, manufacturer of Teatseal, with the Tarwin Veterinary Group and other clinics in Victoria and Tasmania.
The field trial involved 16 herds and 3555 heifers.
A case of mastitis has been costed at $200/head by the Tarwin Veterinary Group and heifers can lose a quarter for their entire life even if they catch the mastitis early. The cost of teat-sealing
is $24/heifer.
New Zealand farmers have been teat-sealing heifers for years and the Tarwin Veterinary Group had a trailer built in New Zealand specifically to make teat-sealing easier.
It replicates a herringbone design and fits five well-grown heifers at a time. The business has
been teat sealing for one-and-a-half years.
“Research over the last 10 years has shown teat-sealing heifers has worked but no-one wanted to do it. Heifers were too small to put in the dairy,” vet David Lemchens said.
It requires three or four people doing yard work to get the heifers in, then one vet and three vet nurses undertake the procedure. They can
do 450 in a day.
The trailer is ideal for outblocks, where heifers are traditionally run with few facilities. Heifers are teat-sealed two months before calving.
“Heifers take longer to calve so they are up and down in the mud,” Dr Lemchens said.
He said one farmer had 160 heifers and due to a logistical problem could only have half teat-sealed.
“Twenty-five per cent of the non-teat-sealed heifers later suffered from mastitis.
In the teat-sealed mob, one heifer received it in one quarter.”
Mr Mortlock was an immediate convert to teat sealing.
“If you save 10 per cent of heifers from getting mastitis, you’re streets in front in future,” he said.
“We had at least 10 per cent getting mastitis so it pays for itself. An animal milking at 80 per cent of its potential is not making money.”
It also means they are receiving a better return on their investment to use sexed semen to grow their herd.
The Mortlocks now milk 630 cows on the 300ha home farm at Yanakie and have a sharefarmer on a 100ha farm where they milk an additional
230 cows.
They also have additional hectares at Yanakie and at Foster, where they run replacement young stock and grow fodder.
The Mortlocks have trialled split-calving the past few years but are moving back to once-a-year calving this year. The 150 cows due to calve in
August will now be milked through and joined to AI with the autumn calving cows.
“Split-calving works fine but it is too big a workload,” Mr Mortlock said.
They will join 270 heifers to sexed semen this year and plan to join 350 the following year.
The additional heifers will put selection pressure on those that take too long to calve.
“If joining goes for too long we’ll get rid of the tail,” Mr Mortlock said. “An eight-week calving is what we’re aiming for.”
They will calve in autumn and the Mortlocks produce enough home-grown fodder to feed them over.
They also feed 2.2 tonnes of wheat per cow each year and half a tonne of canola to lift fat.
Like many dairy farmers, the Mortlocks are working hard to drive efficiency from within but Mr Mortlock said a better price was needed.
“We need $6. If we get $6 we put money into the community. If we get $5 you stop spending,” he said.