The Hidden Emotional Costs of Mastitis
Like many dairy farmers, my husband and I purchased the family dairy farm—a lovely herd of registered Holsteins, excellent producers and good pedigrees, some of which were descendants of my husband’s grandfather’s original herd. And, like most dairy operations, we had a case of mastitis every now and then, both subclinical and clinical.
However, nothing could have prepared me for what we were about to go through.
A couple of years ago, we had the worst case of multiple subclinical mastitis I’ve ever seen. It was so severe that we're just starting to get things back on track.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience or perhaps you’re looking for ways to prevent an outbreak on your farm. It’s a very common condition among dairy cows and it can cost you dearly – financially and emotionally. Let me share with you my experience.
Mastitis Is the Costliest Disease to Affect a Dairy Farm
We were treating multiple cases of subclinical mastitis for months and months. If it had been just one case, then we could’ve managed it and got on top of it, but we had multiple cows in the bucket and were dumping a lot of milk. Our overall SCC increased drastically.
So, in addition to our regular DHI testing, we were running owner sampler tests and culturing samples to rule out hard-to-treat pathogens. We’d wait for our bulk tank and the DHI results to come back and address the cows with elevated SCC. No matter what we did, we saw no improvement in our tank test.
The Emotional Toil of Treating Multiple Cases of Mastitis
The extra hours in the barn bucket milking, administering medication and monitoring each cow’s progress started to take us away from the other work around the farm. We didn’t have any extra time for the dry cow barn or grading the laneway.
The milk house didn’t get that extra cleaning, the calves didn’t get dehorned right on time, the barn didn’t get swept, the registrations weren’t being done on time. The only thing that mattered were the milk cows. We had to figure out how to get rid of this mastitis and what was contributing to the multiple cases.
It took every drop of our energy and resources. The long hours began to add up and take their toll on me. Morale was low and the mental fatigue really started to affect us in a bad way. Every day was one step forward, two steps back, and self-doubt began to creep in.
Going through something like that weighs heavily on you emotionally. You want the best for your cows and no matter what we did, it felt like we were failing them. It was so bad, we had to cull the cows who didn’t respond to multiple treatments, and then we had to purchase replacement cattle.
That was the breaking point where we wanted to give up and sell everything.
Mastitis is a painful condition and it was awful seeing our cows suffering so badly. They seemed resistant to antibiotics, which only made the situation worse. Despite our efforts, we were fighting a losing battle with no relief in sight.
In our case, we eventually discovered stray voltage (tingle voltage) on our farm. After all the sleepless nights, worry and financial stress we finally knew what was at the root of our problem and we were able to address it.
The Costly Lasting Effects of Multiple Cases of Mastitis
To this day, we’re still experiencing the lingering effects of this episode. It’s not just the financial impact of herd replacements. Our breeding program was also greatly affected. Due to the drop in production, we began to replace members of our herd and gradually introduced a large number of new cows, which helped in the short term; but buying that many fresh cows at roughly the same stage in their lactation caused a big dip in our regular calving intervals.
We are now trying to stagger breeding and get them back on track.
Implementing the Right Tools to Prevent Mastitis
It was during this battle that I found Dairy Quality’s Dairy Health Check. I’ve been using it ever since. You can use anywhere to check the SCC of your herd, besides a whole host of other apps. With the Dairy Health Check solution, I can do testing right in the milking parlor or anywhere I need to check for milk quality or the health of my cows, which is a tremendous help.
I’m able to run a test on the tank daily if needed, and even on a per milking basis. It’s so convenient and immediate. You can monitor your cows at any time during treatment to check their progress and follow up with them after-treatment. You can test all fresh cows post calving before they are added to the tank. It’s the best way to monitor your SCC levels.
When we were buying replacement cows, we could test each one using our Dairy Health Check to make sure they were in good health and low SCC. We could make instant decisions on certain cows and feel good about the decisions we were making.
It was and continues to be a huge money saver. Whether you’re trying to avoid penalties or reach your premium, a report will let you know exactly which cows are negatively affecting your bulk tank and give you accurate readings of your SCC levels. The best part is, you can update this information anytime and get a new report whenever you need it.
What started out as a way to monitor our bulk tank and focus on problem cows has become an everyday part of our routine. It’s like having your herd’s medical history in your pocket.
Being aware of the financial and emotional costs involved with subclinical mastitis is your first step in anticipating the impact on your dairy business.
Planning ahead and implementing the right tools will help minimize the negative and costly impact of mastitis by giving you more control over your herd's health.
What's your mastitis story? Find me on Facebook and let me know.
About the Author
Shannon McFadden • Quality Milk Specialist
Who better to have as customer support than a dairy farmer? Shannon has been in the dairy business for 18 years. She holds a certificate in Dairy Production and Management from the PennState College of Agricultural Sciences. Together with her husband and children, she operates a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario along with her work at Dairy Quality Inc. She’s an avid advocate of the Dairy Health Check and has made the device part of their routine for over 3 years.
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