As featured in the Animal Health section of Dairy farmer…
Bedding matters when it comes to mastitis prevention
Maintaining a high standard of cow health usually involves a number of small details, which come together to create the right environment for disease prevention. One producer has found that a bedding additive has helped to reduce the incidence of mastitis. Wendy Short reports.
The somatic cell count average for Richard Infield’s herd is 120,000 cells/ml and the bactoscan figure is in single digits. This presents a stark contrast to previous health statistics, which showed a cell count average which had become ‘out of control’ and mastitis cases having a significant negative effect on business profitability.
The only marked change to the management of cows was in January 2021, when a bacterial bedding additive was introduced to the routine for the 120-cow Holstein Friesian herd at Ouse Farm, near Tempsford, Bedfordshire.
Cobiotex is a multi-strain, bacterial powder which is claimed to form a protective biofilm over harmful pathogens on the bedding and cubicle surfaces.
It has been developed to outcompete harmful organisms linked to mastitis, including e.coli, staphylococcus and streptococcus.
The product is used in combination with chopped straw over Sacrolyte rubber mattresses and is applied in winter on a weekly basis to the area where the cows udders are positioned when lying down. In addition, the cubicles are swept twice daily using an automated brush system and fresh straw is put down every day. Over summer, when cows are out at grass for most of the time, the product is applied once every three weeks or so.
Mr Infield says: “Within three months of using the bedding additive, the number of high cell count critical cases had been cut by half.” When cows came in at the end of September, the cell count figure was standing at 220,000 and it had fallen to 166,000 by December.
“It has remained fairly steady at the current average, although it has been as low as 99,000.
“I see about 10 cases of mastitis a year and that is much better than it used to be.”
Mr Infield says using a bedding additive has helped to keep the bedding dry and he has noticed a decrease in the slurry moisture content when it is collected for spreading. He says: “I estimate it takes about one month for the number of ‘good’ bacteria to build up in cubicles. I tried omitting it from the routine for a short while last summer, but the cell count figure started creeping up and that is why it is now used all year round. “It takes about 10 minutes to manually cover the 103 cubicles using a 25kg bag of the product transported by wheelbarrow. One bag will last for about three weeks.”
The milking regime has been left unchanged and it is a simple system of pre-dip, wipe, milk and post-dip. Any cow with a cell count above 250,000 is moved to the ‘exception list and there are currently half. This compares favourably with past performance, where up to 20 ‘exceptions’ were the norm.
Prior to introducing the bedding additive, Mr Infield used a germicidal powder applied twice a week and, before that, sand topped with lime and a sand disinfectant. He says the current bedding additive is beneficial to cow foot health. “I used to struggle to control lameness in the herd, but nowadays I see very few problems with digital dermatitis and any lesions heal rapidly.
“I have also started using it in the straw-bedded calf pens, but it is too early to say whether it has had an effect.”
The Ouse Farm herd calves all year round and has a yield average of 9,500kg at 4.2% butterfat and 3.15% protein. Sexed semen is used exclusively to produce replacements and heifers are calved at two years.
The farm carries two Aberdeen-Angus bulls, which act as sweepers and are also pat to the lower end of the herd with beef cross calves sold at about one month old.
The aim is for a six-month grazing period, but the ground is prone to flooding and this can be difficult to achieve. The farm covers 202 hectares (500 acres) and includes an arable rotation which supplies beans and wheat for the herd’s total mixed ration.
The diet also includes grass silage, straw and a mix of soya, a moist blend product containing by-pass protein and rapemeal. An 18% protein concentrate fed to yield in the parlour is produced specifically for the farm. It is formulated without beans, as they are already included in the diet.
Mr Infield farms in partnership with his parents, John and Jennifer, and his sister, Liz Saunders. Julie Humphrey milks the cows, while two other employees work alongside Mr Infield’s brother-in-law, George Saunders, who runs his own YouTube farming channel with more than 100,000 subscribers.
The family’s approach to the future of the business is to ‘keep ticking over’, he says.
Mr Infield says: “There are few opportunities for expansion and I am not keen to push the cows for higher yields.
“One fairly recent policy has been to try and maintain a younger herd. Until two years ago the cows were taken to eight lactations, but I feel that six should be the target figure and there is only one seventh lactation female left.
“Cutting down lactation numbers should further improve cow health and performance and help to make the best of the latest genetics.”