Grant will fund mastitis study in dairy cattle

Published on: Mar 13, 2013

Integrating Michigan State University Extension and education programs to reduce mastitis and antimicrobial use in dairy cattle is the aim of a new project led by Michigan State AgBioResearch veterinarian Ron Erskine, who has received a nearly $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA).

Mastitis, an infection of a cow's udder, is the most common infectious disease in dairy cattle in North America. It typically costs between $300 and $600 per infection and adversely affects milk production and animal health.

The five-year grant is a continuation of a cooperative project that has reduced the incidence of mastitis, an announcement said.

"In the past 10 years, there has been slow but steady progress in reducing mastitis, but there is always room to improve," said Erskine, a professor in the Michigan State College of Veterinary Medicine and an extension specialist.

The bacteria that cause mastitis are most often transmitted by contact with the milking machine or contaminated hands or materials. Severity can differ dramatically, from mild cases that go untreated to others that require antibiotics and other drugs.

"That brings in another whole set of costs to producers — the cost of the drugs, labor to administer the drugs and issues with discarding the milk because milk from a cow that has been treated with drugs cannot go to market," Erskine explained. "If we can find better ways to prevent the disease from occurring, then we won't need to use drugs. That would good for farmers, good for consumers and good for the health of the cow. It's a win-win situation. That's the objective of the USDA project: to prevent mastitis from ever occurring."

Prevention begins in the milking parlor, Erskine said.

"That's where you see the first signs of mastitis. The people doing the milking are the boots on the ground," he said. "If an effort is not made to keep the cows clean, dry and comfortable, all the planning and research in the world does not go anywhere."