If you have manure, water and soil on your dairy, then you have environmental mastitis pathogens, too.

But since you can’t get rid of them, keeping them out of the mammary gland becomes the primary goal for preventing environmental mastitis infections. 

Here’s how to do it.

1. Maintain a clean, dry housing environment

This piece of advice surely sounds like a broken record by now, but it cannot be overemphasized, says Arizona veterinarian Pat Gorden. “We all know it’s important, but we also have to do it.”

With more reliance on hired labor, it becomes a training issue. Make sure employees know the importance of maintaining clean, comfortable living quarters and how to accomplish it on your dairy.

Stocking density is also important to watch — not only in the lactating herd, but in the dry-cow area, fresh pen and hospital pen as well.

2. Practice sanitary milking procedures

Both pre- and post-dipping with a quality teat dip are critical, and should not be skipped when cash flow gets tight. Emphasis should also be placed on timing of unit attachment to minimize liner slips, and  removal to prevent teat-end lesions and hyperkeratosis.

If you haven’t done so already, write out your standard-operating procedure, demonstrate it, and provide training. Then, monitor perfomance. The goal: Make sure that every employee who touches the cows in your parlor follows the same protocol on every cow, every day.

3. Forestrip

While forestripping may not be the ticket to maximizing parlor throughput, it is a critical control point to detect new mastitis infections.

“It is our one opportunity to evaluate the individual cow two or three times a day, to detect a new mastitis infection,” says Pfizer veterinarian Austin Belschner. “To not do so is to throw away the chance of treating infections early — when they are most curable.”

4. Keep udders clean and dry

Parlor-entry wash pens can be great for cleaning udders, but that water can work against you, too, says Gorden. Make sure udders and teat ends are thoroughly clean and dry before the milking unit goes on. Routine udder singeing is helpful also.

5. Feed for health

Nutrition doesn’t just impact body condition and milk output. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can affect cows’ immune systems. Work jointly with your nutritionist and veterinarian to make ration corrections that will boost your herd’s disease-fighting ability, advises Belschner. 

6. Vaccinate

If there’s one thing that has improved mammary health and minimized environmental mastitis infections in the last decade, it’s core-antigen vaccination, declares Gorden. He universally recommends a three-shot J-5 vaccination regimen, with vaccinations administered at dry-off, in the close-up pen, and two to four weeks after freshening to minimize immediate postpartum stress.

7. Identify your enemy

The downside of the vaccines’ ability to mitigate environmental infections is that the now-milder clinical cases look the same as clinical contagious mastitis. You have to culture milk samples.

In addition to routine bulk tank cultures and individual-cow laboratory cultures, many herds now are performing routine on-farm evaluations of clinical cases using the Minnesota Easy-Culture system. This simple test assesses whether mastitis cases are gram-positive or gram-negative in nature, so treatments can be selected accordingly. 

If you don’t want to wait for more definitive culture results on individual cases before treating, freeze a milk sample for later evaluation in case the initial treatment does not work.

8. Treat infections accordingly

Target treatments based on individual culture results (ideal), gram-negative/gram-positive assessment (next best), or recent herd bulk-tank culture trends. With more intramammary antibiotic treatment options becoming available, effectively treating environmental infections like E. coli is a better possibility today.   And, don’t forget supportive therapy. 

Gorden also advises clients to grade every clinical case as “mild,” “moderate” or “severe.” The moderate and severe cases also need intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs and systemic antibiotics, in addition to the intramammary antibiotics.

Keep in mind that effective antibiotic therapy might mean more than just the traditional two or three mastitis tubes. “Our medical doctors stress to us to take all of our antibiotics when we’re sick, even after we start feeling better,” notes Belschner. “It’s no different for the cow. To truly achieve a bacteriological cure, and not just a temporary clinical cure, additional days of therapy may be necessary.”

Be sure to record all treatments and their outcomes. This gives you a record of how well therapy worked, and if changes are needed.

9. Dry treat and seal out the bugs

Consider using an internal teat sealant at dry-off in conjunction with dry-cow therapy. Gorden recommends whole-herd dry-cow treatment, followed by the sealant.

The results of this protocol in his client herds have been dramatic. Take, for example, one herd with a mid-400,000 somatic cell count that performed an on-farm trial. Cows treated with dry-cow therapy and the internal teat sealant dropped to below 250,000 cells/mL at freshening, while cows treated with dry-cow therapy alone remained essentially unchanged.

On average, he sees a 5 percent to 10 percent drop in new dry-period infections when herds start using it. “I think sealing the teat end really helps dry-cow therapy do what it is supposed to do, which is to clear any existing infections through the dry period,” he says. “Because no new bugs can get in, the risk of re-infection is reduced. That means we’re freshening cleaner cows that have a better chance of staying healthy throughout lactation.”

Maureen Hanson is a freelance writer in La Porte City, Iowa.