VIROQUA, Wis. – A strong immune system, herbs and essential oils play large roles in treating mastitis on organic dairy farms. Veterinarian Sarah Slaby, Arcadia, Wis., made those points during a recent workshop in Viroqua, Wis.
The session, sponsored by Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP), La Farge, Wis., featured Slaby and several other experts. Paul Detloff, staff veterinarian for CROPP, headed up the workshop.
Slaby made her recommendations about cows’ immune systems and the use of herbs and plant oils because organic dairy producers simply do not have available to them all the options that conventional farmers do. If they administer antibiotics, for example, the cow and her milk are made ineligible to carry the “organic” label.
A toolbox devoid of antibiotics doesn’t mean mastitis has to win. Slaby advocated taking a “system” approach to battling mastitis. She emphasized, “A strong immune system is the key.”
One key to building a strong immune system is to not overfeed grain or underfeed forage. That’s because, the veterinarian explained, rumen acidosis can result if cows do not eat enough fiber, provided by forage.
Feeding a ration that’s high in grain can lower the pH of a cow’s rumen, making it more acidic. In turn, that lowers the cow’s blood and cellular pH and harms her immune system. A weakened immune system makes it easier for infectious organisms – like those that cause mastitis – to become established.
Slaby advised using the California Mastitis Test (CMT) to check for mastitis. “Start treating as soon as there are any signs of flakes in the milk,” she urged.
It’s also a good idea to culture milk samples to find out whether the mastitis pathogens or environmental are contagious, Slaby said.
Feel infected quarters, to locate any abscesses, she continued. An infected quarter will need to be stripped of its milk. It’s best to strip four or five times a day, Slaby said.
The veterinarian emphasized that, “Milking hygiene is very important. I can’t stress that enough.”
An important tool in the cleanliness battle is rubber or latex gloves. Wear these kinds of gloves when inspecting, washing or dipping teats, she recommended.
Slaby also urged using a predip before washing udders. After milking, use a postdip solution, she added.
What’s more, she said, “Dip the milking units between cows. And milk infected cows last.”
Acute toxic cases, or “hot” mastitis, are more serious than subclinical cases, in which cows exhibit few symptoms, Slaby said. Signs of acute mastitis include lethargy, dehydration, not eating, a temperature of 103 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit, and a quarter that is hard or inflamed.
Milk from a quarter with acute mastitis will be watery or yellow, and might also be “chunky,” Slaby described. In addition, the cow will have an elevated heart rate and will breathe faster than normal.
To treat acute mastitis, Slaby administers glucose and electrolytes, along with Vitamin C. She might also give an aspirin bolus along with willow bark, St. John’s wort, whey, and a tincture made from cayenne, Echinacea, garlic and aloe. She might also turn to a product called “Wellness Plus,” along with probiotics that promote rumen health.
It can also be helpful, she said, to massage infected quarters with blends of essential oils. These can include the products “Savvy” and “Protect-Her.” These oils should be rubbed onto the udder for a minute or two twice a day.
Essential oils, the veterinarian explained, are derived from plants. Each oil has a “distinct aroma,” and each one has “hundreds of compounds,” she described. These many compounds include alcohols, aldeyhdes, esters, ketones and terpenes. They can be thought of as a plant’s “immune system,” Slaby said.
These essential oils have the same effect on animals and people as they do on plants. They help “fight off viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi,” the veterinarian said.
There’s an added benefit to using essential oils, according to Slaby: Bacteria do not become resistant to them. That, she said, is because each batch of essential oils is slightly different.
Finally, when treating acute mastitis, Slaby advised this: “Strip, strip, strip,” to remove mastitis pathogens from the udder.
Less-severe instances of mastitis might be termed “clinical,” but also “nontoxic,” the veterinarian told her audience of approximately 50. For these, she recommends using the same treatments as for toxic mastitis.
These include pre-stripping to assess the condition of the milk, running a California Mastitis Test, feeding “good-quality” whey for three to five days, and giving the cow an herbal tincture. The above-mentioned essential oils can be rubbed on infected quarters, too.
Cows with high somatic cell counts (SCCs) can be expensive problems, Slaby indicated. That’s because farmers are often paid extra for milk that’s low in somatic cells, and they often have money deducted from their milk checks if the SCC is too high.
In Slaby’s practice, high-SCC cows get some of the same treatments as those with mastitis. But Slaby also advises feeding high-SCC cows kelp free-choice, along with aloe pellets and whey. She also recommends feeding a high-forage ration and mineralized feed – feed grown in soil that contains a full spectrum of minerals.
Don’t forget dry cows
A good mastitis treatment and prevention program does not forget the dry cows. Some mastitis can be prevented by giving cows that are dry or about to be dried off proper care, Slaby said. Blends of essential oils, plus whey and aloe, come into play here.
Feeding kelp (seaweed), charcoal, and the right mineral mix are other factors, as is the same high-forage ration she recommends for high-SCC cows. Don’t feed dry cows “the worst feed on the farm just because they’re dry cows,” the veterinarian urged.
In addition, noted Slaby, “Hygiene is very important. Don’t put dry cows in the dirtiest pen. Your best friend is a lot of bedding.”