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Mastitis: How to prevent Disease that cuts milk production

A worker milks a cow at Kisii Agricultural Training Center. [Sammy Omingo,Standard]

Dear Daktari, I appreciate your good work in informing us on matters livestock health. My herd of eight cows has suffered from mastitis. How can I prevent it? I have heard that there are vaccines, are they in our markets yet? [Peter Njoroge, Nyeri]

What is mastitis?

Thank you Njoroge for reading The Smart Harvest and for your good question. Mastitis is a big challenge to dairy farmers.  Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammary gland caused from trauma or an infection, leading to abnormal and decreased milk production. Since milk production is the main goal of dairy farming anything that lowers its production becomes a great challenge to dairy farming. 

What causes mastitis?

The spread of mastitis causing pathogens occurs during milking, through such pathways as milkers’ hands or milking machines or when teats come in contact with contaminated materials. Mastitis is caused by a wide variety of pathogens.

Vaccines offer hope but not a panacea?

The multitude of causative pathogens presents a big challenge in vaccines development. Nonetheless efforts to develop vaccines have yielded fruits and a few pathogen specific vaccines are already out there in the market.

What can farmers do to prevent mastitis?

This being the case there has been a lot of advancements in the detection and management of mastitis.  As a result, there are various mastitis medicines available on the market today. Another caution that farmers need to exercise is never to try self-treatment. Doing this has two negative results; one is the direct contribution to anti-microbial resistance and two is the very high chances of applying the wrong medicines and therefore worsening the problem further. In mastitis as like in all other disease please at the earliest detection of suspected clinical sign call in your vet. Good animal husbandry is all a farmer needs to do to prevent mastitis. Most of the mastitis causing pathogens originate from the environment within which the cow stays. Streptococcus, Coliform, Klebsiella and Enterobacter which cause environmental mastitis are all found in soils, cow beddings and manure, any contacts between such soils and manures with the teats will result in an infection.

A clean environment (cow house) will therefore prevent mastitis. Good milking is another animal husbandry practice that can help prevent mastitis. Milking should be done well, train your farm hands on how to squeeze and not to pull the udder. Use properly set and maintained milking machines. Clean the teats before milking and every cow must have its own cleaning towel better still use disposable paper towels. In as much as we use water to wash the teats, it is a means of transport for these pathogens. Only clean water should be used. Clinical signs of mastitis include change in the normal colour of udder and teats to red or bluish. Presence of wounds especially at the teat opening. Teat dips help in reducing the number of bacteria on the teat but be cautious to use only those that have been approved. Farmers keen on keeping mastitis at bay will always fore strip milk from every quarter to check for mastitis. Fore stripping increases milk letdown.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO] 


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