In Florida, where Mycoplasma bovis is endemic, this dairy takes an additional precaution. It pasteurizes the waste milk in a high-temperature-short-time pasteurization unit, then delivers the milk direct to the calves with this mobile tank.

Victor Mendes does what he can to stay on top of Mycoplasma bovis. It takes constant vigilance, especially considering the nature of his work. Mendes is a custom calf-raiser for approximately 90 dairies in California and, therefore, is bringing in calves — and hospital-pen milk — from numerous locations.

A major reason for his success: Each and every drop of milk that is fed to the calves is pasteurized to kill harmful organisms. That, along with stringent sanitation and watchful employees, has kept a lid on any M. bovis outbreaks.

There’s always the risk, however, that one of his client farms will drop the ball and not pasteurize the colostrum fed to calves prior to their arrival at the calf ranch. Mendes says it’s been three to four years since a calf came onto his place with M. bovis, but the threat is constant nevertheless.

Mendes’ employees are instructed to look for droopy ears, head tilting and other tell-tale signs of M. bovis in calves. As Mendes has found, it’s vital to have a plan for dealing with M. bovis, because the disease is like a wildfire that can quickly get out of hand. 

Endemic throughout the U.S.
Having a plan for M. bovis seems rather basic. Doesn’t everyone have a plan?

Obviously not, because breakdowns continue to occur throughout the system. M. bovis shows no signs of abating following its rise to prominence in the mid- to late-1990s.

“Mycoplasma continues to plague the dairy industry,” points out Greg Goodell, veterinarian and dairy consultant in Greeley, Colo. “Mycoplasma is not abating and, in fact, it seems the more we look, the more we discover the many problems associated with it.”

California veterinarian Paul Blackmer, a veteran of many M. bovis battles, agrees: “Mycoplasma bovis is endemic in the vast majorities of Western dairy herds,” he says. “We deal with it every day.”

It’s not just a Western problem either. Fiona Maunsell, veterinary researcher at the University of Florida, says it’s fairly endemic — or constantly present — in the Sunshine State as well.  

Unfortunately, a lot of herds lack the skills needed to deal with M. bovis on an on-going basis. For instance, one of the keys to success is monitoring the bulk tank. If mycoplasma organisms are found in bulk-tank cultures, the farm needs to narrow down the list of cows that are possibly contributing to the problem. A lot of farms do not have the expertise or specialized equipment to take “string samples” from different milking groups. The only alternative is to culture each and every cow, and that can be very expensive.

Finally, there’s still a lot of confusion about M. bovis, which can interfere with effective management.

An ever-present threat
Have a plan in place for monitoring M. bovis, and then know what to do if you find it. The plan need not be complicated, but it must include both cows and calves. (The main points of a plan are listed below.)

Think of M. bovis as an ever-present threat.