The use of antibiotics to control mastitis in heifers before they calve should be employed only when there is a significant heifer mastitis problem in the herd and under the supervision of the herd veterinarian. This was one of the key messages in a review paper published in the March Journal of Dairy Science.

The article reviews the impact, prevention and control of mastitis in dairy heifers, as well as the nature of the disease. The authors of the review paper include mastitis experts from the University of Ghent in Belgium; Washington State University; University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada and the Animal Health Centre in Morrinsville, New Zealand.

According to an interpretive summary of the article, mastitis prevention in heifers is based on optimizing hygiene, feeding and fly control, avoidance of cross-suckling in young stock and improving animal comfort at calving.

Advice for implementing these preventative measures can be found in the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association’s Gold Standards II and III. In particular, direct your attention to section IV of the Gold Standards II and section III in the Gold Standards III. These sections discuss the housing environment of heifers, as well as target feeding space and stocking density guidelines for Holstein heifers. Advice on fly control can be found in section IX of the Gold Standards III.

Mastitis threatens a heifer’s productivity and udder health in her first and subsequent lactations. Implementing management practices during all stages of a heifer’s growth is an important way to control subclinical and clinical infections in heifers.

Intramammary therapy of heifers is considered an off-label use of antibiotics, which can increase the risk of antibiotic residues in milk. Advice on the judicious use of antibiotics, including prepartum intramammary antibiotic therapy, can be found in section IV-A of the Dairy Animal Care & Quality Assurance Certification manual.