Animal Health

“Just the person I wanted to talk to”

By Rod Dyson

COFFEE AND a slice on a Saturday morning is a bit of ritual for us these days, and my coffee had just arrived when John entered the café.

I have never been to John’s farm, but I had met him a few times over the years at various industry seminars and meetings.

“Just the person I wanted to talk to! You’ll be able to tell me what to do,” John announced.

As I stood up to greet John, our chocolate brownie slice arrived at the table and my wife started to cut it in half (way too much sugar in a whole brownie!), whilst John’s wife made her way to a vacant table.

“I’ve been using [Product X] for years to treat my mastitis, and it’s not working any more — what should I be using?”

I began to tell John that I didn’t know anything about his situation, and that it would be most inappropriate for me to attempt to give him any advice, but he quickly interrupted.

“But you know all about that stuff!”

I explained that whilst I do know some stuff, I didn’t know anything about his stuff! Had he spoken to his vet about this?

“Yeah, I got Gwen to ask Dave when she was in the clinic last week and he gave her some [Product Y], but that isn’t working either!”

Gwen is John’s wife — she works off the farm at a business in town, and probably has very little to do with the cows. So I immediately felt some empathy for Dave, who would have been unable to get any extra information to guide his advice!

Any professional advice — solicitor, accountant, banker, nutritionist, agronomist, etc. — is only as good as the information on which the advice is based.

One of the first considerations for a vet giving mastitis treatment advice will be whether there are any recent milk cultures available. Knowing which bacteria might be causing the infections is an important starting point to developing a treatment recommendation.

Hence if there are not any recent cultures available, it will often be a recommendation to obtain some!

Equally as important is that milk cultures will help define how the mastitis infections are spreading — it never ceases to amaze us how often it has been assumed that mastitis infections are environmental, especially after wet or very hot weather, only to find from milk cultures that this was simply not the case.

Your vet will want to know about the severity of the clinical cases. Treatment advice and protocols for cows that are severely ill are likely to be different to those for relatively minor cases — in fact, it is usually a good idea to have an established protocol for both.

Of particular interest will be recent treatment history — not only individual cows, but also the herd overall. Understanding which treatments appear to have been effective and especially those that have not, will help frame treatment advice.

How many cases have failed to respond to the first course of treatment?

If more than 20 per cent of cases require either extended treatment or a change of treatment, Countdown suggests this is a “trigger” point at which you should review your treatment protocols.

There could be any number of little clues that will assist your vet. For example, are most cases occurring in freshly calved cows? Is there a significant number of first calf heifers affected?

How many cases are repeat cases? What is your definition of a repeat case?

Also under consideration will be when and how you like to treat cows.

Some farms prefer to only treat once a day, usually because there are extra staff and more time is available — naturally this means a treatment recommendation that uses products designed for once a day treatment.

There are also farms which prefer to use only intra-mammary products, whilst other farms like to use only injectables, and many farms are happy to use a combination of both.

How will the different withholding periods of various products affect your herd management and milking protocols?

Also, whilst cost can also come into consideration, in my opinion that the most expensive treatment is the one that doesn’t work!

Dave already has a working knowledge of John’s farm, so I told John that the more questions that Dave asked, and the more he could accurately answer those questions, the better the advice and treatment outcomes would be. More effective and better targeted use of less antibiotics will also help our industry move forward in today’s evolving world.

By the time I had explained this to John, and he headed off to join his wife at the other table, I’m pretty sure his coffee would have been cold, and I know that all that was left of my half a slice of chocolate brownie was the wry smile on my wife’s face!

• Rod Dyson is a veterinary surgeon and mastitis adviser at www.dairyfocus.com.au