Overview of the Penn State Mastitis and Milk Quality Conference

CM-MR-3-Overview of 3by Bill and Mary Weaver

The Penn State Mastitis and Milk Quality Conference, held March 25 and 26 at the Harrisburg/Hershey Holiday Inn, was part of a larger effort by a USDA-funded project through Michigan State University, to protect milk quality by lowering the use of antimicrobials, while at the same time also lowering the number of mastitis cases.

The event, hosted by Penn State’s Veterinary Extension Team, appeared to show that the science is available to accomplish this goal, if all the many factors that can influence mastitis infection and treatment are taken into account.

Researchers taking part in the project are examining every possible means to reduce the incidence of mastitis, with a focus on prevention. They are also looking for ways dairy farmers can determine when mastitis occurs, which cases will benefit from antibiotic treatment and which cases are caused by organisms that are not affected by antibiotics or will clear up on their own without treatment.
If a cow is sick, you treat immediately, advised several speakers. But if there are symptoms of mastitis without obvious illness in the cow, there is time to do a culture to determine what organism(s) may be responsible, and to plan your treatment accordingly.

One highly-informative, four hour workshop on “Intelligent Mastitis Treatment,” led by Dr. Ernest Hovingh of Penn State Veterinary Extension, demonstrated how this can be done.

Other workshops and sessions focused on the role milking equipment may play in causing mastitis: “a small but key role,” according to Dr. Roger Thomson, who demonstrated his points using his hands-on Teaching Parlor; the most effective way to use mastitis vaccines, presented by Dr. Gina Pighetti; and the importance of stall size and configuration in reducing cow stress and improving overall cow cleanliness, with some surprising results, in a session on “Managing Mastitis Outside the Parlor,” by John Tyson P.E, with supporting material by Extension Veterinarian Dr. David Wolfgang of Penn State.

Throughout the workshops and sessions, the focus was on prevention of mastitis by cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness, as every dairy farmer knows: of teats, the cow itself, the milking equipment, the stalls and bedding, the alleys, and the cow’s overall environment, including control of flies.

Several speakers also emphasized the importance of reducing cows’ stress, from overcrowding, for example, as a way of optimizing their immune function.

Because so many dairy farmers now hire help to do the milking and herd management, another emphasis was on how best to communicate with employees, to engage their minds in their work, to encourage their feedback when they see problems, to provide positive feedback to them on a regular basis, to train them in thorough teat cleaning before and after milking, to encourage harmony among employees, and to make them valued members of the farm team by having and working toward clearly defined goals.

The session that perhaps caused the most “buzz” among participants was “The Role of Nutrition in Udder Health,” presented by Dr. Robert Van Saun, of Penn State’s Veterinary Extension Team, who presented the newest evidence from research that showed the importance of higher than NRC levels of Vitamins A and E, as well as zinc, selenium, calcium, and protein, in supporting the cow’s immune function to prevent mastitis or shorten its course. His statistics were impressive. Supplementation with these vitamins and minerals is particularly important during the end of the dry period and early lactation, when physiologic changes predispose the cow to lowered immune function.

Dr. Mike Kristula, Dr. Ernest Hovingh, and others emphasized the importance of establishing a protocol or plan of how mastitis will be treated on your farm. If all your employees are following the protocol, you can look back over time to see how your plan is working, and modify it as needed in consultation with your veterinarian.

The conference also included a session on “Robots and Milk Quality,” followed by a presentation by dairy farmer Lewis Horning of Ephrata on his experiences with robotic milking.
Dr. Ron Erskine of Michigan State gave valuable pointers on the pharmacology of mastitis therapy, including how long some individual antibiotics can persist, even in the meat of the cow at slaughter.

Veterinarians attending the Conference received continuing education credits. Two other universities are participating in the Quality Milk Alliance project, Florida A&M, and Mississippi State University.

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