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If the udder is broken down cull them, otherwise dry-cow therapy is a viable option

Good selection for udder and teat conformation goes a long ways to preventing mastitis problems down the line

Even though we think of mastitis as more of a dairy disease producers still need to be vigilant about it in their beef herds. With higher milk production and cows being retained in our herds longer both these factors have a tendency to increase the incidence of mastitis.

Mastitis or inflammation of the mammary gland results in swelling in the infected quarter together with heat and soreness. Affected cows may have a guarded walk because of the pain. If it is a severe infection or when more than one quarter is involved the cow may be febrile and depressed. The quicker we initiate treatment the better. Stripping out the infected milk together with systemic antibiotics such as penicillin and non-steroidal antiinflammatories as well as treatment with approved products up the udder is my preferred method. This has the greatest chance of success.

If you detect air when stripping the quarter this is often a sign of serious infections. The bacteria produce gas with toxins and can be life threatening.

Unlike dairy cattle where we must consider milk withdrawal this is not an issue with beef cattle so using the dry-cow treatments is an option. Drycow therapies are effective for a much longer time than other treatments making them a viable option in beef cattle that may be harder to treat. Just be sure you comply with any withdrawal dates. Slaughter withdrawal times for dry-cow infusions are 30 days and longer.

It may be necessary to poultice the infection on the outside if a large abscess develops. In severe cases the infection will wall itself off and the whole quarter may slough off. The cow may totally recover and the problem is eliminated for next year.

Calves seem to avoid sucking affected quarter(s) so I personally don’t worry about them becoming sick from infected milk. Keep an eye on their flanks though to make sure they are getting enough. If the mastitis makes the cow physically sick their milk production will drop dramatically and the calf may need to be supplemented. In severe cases the calf may need to be orphaned to another cow as the udder may dry up completely.

Many times mastitis in beef cows is not caught quickly enough or there is a smouldering infection that starts after weaning and becomes clinical when the cow calves the following year. The odds of clearing up these chronic infections are very long indeed. My advice is to either ship the cow or attempt to dry up the infected quarter.

It has been found that three-teated cows will compensate and produce almost as much milk as if all four quarters were functional. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a treatment. There are many concoctions that appear to work. Varying concentrations of silver nitrate, copper sulphate and other products have been tried so see which one has worked for your veterinarian. The most ideal time to do this is after weaning when the cow is naturally drying off. When a cow is producing milk it becomes difficult to dry one quarter off while expecting the others to keep producing. Once the quarter is chemically dried off it will scar down and should not produce milk again thus eliminating the chance for reoccurrence.

In my experience two groups have a higher incidence of mastitis in beef herds. They are the younger, good-producing cows that have a tendency to leak milk at or around calving and the old cows with the low-slung, broken-down bags.

Good selection for udder and teat conformation goes a long ways to preventing mastitis problems further down the line. Cows with the larger Coke-bottle teats are not only a bother because the calves have diffi-culty sucking, they often have quarters that develop mastitis. Culling older cows with poor teat and udder conformation will eliminate these problems before they develop. These cows become very evident at calving as it usually takes a real effort to get the calves to nurse them.

Never, ever cut off the teat end or lance into the udder to drain an abscess. The udder and teats have a very good blood supply and blood loss can be severe.

By proper selection of replacement stock and being vigilant in maintaining a clean calving area mastitis can be kept to an absolute minimum on beef farms. When you do observe a case, be aggressive with treatment on the advice of your veterinarian.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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