Taking shortcuts in mastitis control can lead to problems. That’s especially true when you avoid giving the correct number of doses specified on the label of a coliform mastitis vaccine. In many cases, you might be disappointed with the vaccine’s results.

Ed Pfeifer can tell you that’s true. “We didn’t think we were getting the benefit (of the vaccine),” admits Pfeifer, who operates a 285-cow dairy with his father and brother-in-law in Bucyrus, Ohio. In the past, the cows “were lucky if they got two shots,” he says.

Based on a veterinarian’s advice, the dairy revamped its coliform vaccination program to a three-shot regimen almost a year ago, and it has seen positive results since. In fact, the dairy experiences about one clinical case of coliform mastitis every three to four months instead of one per month.

Maybe it’s time to review your coliform mastitis vaccine program to see if you’re taking shortcuts in the war against gram-negative mastitis bugs such as E. coli. Follow these guidelines to help you use coliform vaccines properly.

Use as a mastitis control tool
Coliform mastitis vaccines reduce the incidence and severity of coliform mastitis, says Jim Cullor, director of the University of California’s Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare, Calif. However, they do not prevent infection or offer any protection against gram-positive bugs like Staph. aureus.

The vaccines work by helping a cow mount an immune response to coliform mastitis pathogens, such as E. coli or Salmonella typhimurium. They do so by recognizing a common “core antigen” within the different kinds of coliform pathogens. Cullor uses this analogy to explain a core-antigen vaccine: There are many different sizes and shapes of cars. Similarly, there are many different kinds of coliform bacteria in a cow’s environment. Despite a difference in outward appearance, all cars contain a steering wheel. Coliform mastitis pathogens also contain a “steering wheel” or core antigen. A coliform vaccine “teaches the immune system to recognize that steering wheel,” Cullor says.

When used properly, a coliform vaccine stimulates an immune response which, in turn, can help you control coliform mastitis in your herd, just as it did on the Pfeifer dairy in Ohio.

Follow label directions
Just like any other vaccine, you must follow the label to get the most benefit from using a coliform mastitis vaccine.

For starters, administer the vaccine at each dry-off to prime the immune system. Then, follow up with a second booster about 21 to 35 days later. “The booster is what’s really going to enhance protection,” says Joe Hogan, dairy scientist at Ohio State University. That’s because a cow’s immune system has a short memory when it comes to mastitis-causing bacteria. When you give the booster, it causes a cow’s immune system to mount a much greater response than the initial vaccination. That can boost immunity as a cow nears calving, the time period when she is most susceptible to coliform mastitis.

Depending on the product you use, you may need to give a third booster at calving. This practice prolongs a cow’s antibody levels into the first few weeks after calving, a time period when she is highly susceptible to mastitis, Hogan says.

Three primary coliform mastitis or core-antigen vaccines are on the market today. Ask your veterinarian to help you decide which may be the best one to use in your herd.

Combine with sound management
“Vaccines are still not panaceas,” says Larry Smith, dairy scientist at Ohio State University. In fact, they won’t do much good if your cows are exposed to a filthy environment.

Coliform bacteria thrive in bedding and manure, so in order to get the benefit from a vaccine, maintain a clean and dry environment.

Start by stepping up sanitation in your dry, close-up and maternity areas to reduce coliform pathogen loads. Ideally, provide individual pens for maternity cows, Hogan says. Supply clean, dry bedding on a frequent basis. Because of its inorganic nature, sand bedding is recommended. Other bedding choices can work, but you must keep them clean and dry.

Combine sound management with the proper use of a coliform mastitis vaccine to achieve success in your mastitis control program.

New computer program

A new computer program is available to help you and your veterinarian examine the economic benefit of using a coliform mastitis vaccination program. The program, known as JADE (J-VAC Analysis of Dairy Economics), analyzes the cost and benefit of vaccination using management, economic, disease and production data from your dairy. It is available to your veterinarian through Merial. Ask him about it.

When to use coliform mastitis vaccine

According to Joe Hogan and Larry Smith, dairy scientists at Ohio State University, all dry cows can benefit from vaccination with a coliform mastitis vaccine. It is especially important to consider using a coliform mastitis vaccine if the following conditions exist:

  • You use sawdust bedding in confined housing.
  • More than 1 percent of your herd (one quarter out of every 25 cows) is infected with coliform mastitis.