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Muddy issues: Mastitis and scours

By Christine Gelley, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Noble County, Ohio State University Extension

We finally got some snow and freezing temperatures! At our house, we didn’t get snow a single day that our Christmas decorations were up, but snow on Valentine’s Day was appreciated. Fresh snow provides a refreshing look to the landscape when it covers up all the muck and brown underneath it. However, those cold temperatures are still not lasting long enough to firm up the ground and as soon as we track through that snow, our break from reality is over.

Mud creates challenges with mobility both for our animals and equipment. Aside from complicating the logistics of caring for the farm, mud increases our risks for herd health complications too. Many producers have babies on the farm right now. It is important to watch out for signs of mastitis with the mothers and scours with the young.

Lactating animals are at greater risk of mastitis infections when it is muddy. Contaminants on the udder tissue can enter the mammary glands through the milk ducts and cause inflammation. Mothers with mastitis may not allow their young to nurse at the needed length of time or frequency due to pain. The udder may feel hard or hot. Many cases of mastitis occur and pass before we ever notice, but some more acute cases can cause lasting damage to the mother’s mammary tissue and reduce the growth of her young.

As soon as possible after birth and if you are able, check that each teat produces colostrum (the first and most crucial milk). Getting colostrum into a newborn within the first few hours is critical for the long-term health of the animal. The best source of colostrum is from the newborn’s mother. If this is not possible, the next best choice is another mother of the same species from your farm. After that, the next best choice is a colostrum replacer. The nutrient composition of milk is different from species to species and there are diseases that can be passed through milk from farm to farm. Therefore, do not substitute across species or with milk from another farm.

In addition, do not pasteurize colostrum. It will denature the components that make it so special. If you have a mother that produces extra colostrum or in the unfortunate event that a mother dies giving birth or shortly after, milks as much colostrum from her as you can and freeze it. Thaw frozen colostrum/milk in a warm water bath, never in the microwave. For more tips consult https://u.osu.edu/beef or https://u.osu.edu/sheep by typing “colostrum” into the search bar. There are many helpful articles available on the OSU Extension Team websites that you can access 24/7.

Another very helpful article is by my colleague in Belmont County – Dan Lima – about scours. It can be viewed online at https://go.osu.edu/scoursbydan. In his article, Dan reminds us that muddy conditions put calves (and other young) at a higher risk of developing scours, which is most obviously noticeable as diarrhea. Scours can be caused by a variety of organisms present in mud. The most common being E. coli. Often the young will pick up the bacteria (or other pathogens) from mother’s udder tissue while nursing. Scours can be very detrimental to young animals because it causes dehydration and weight loss.

Young that receive adequate amounts of colostrum at birth receive helpful antibodies from their mothers that provide the immune system responses needed to combat the pathogens that cause scours. Vaccines can be administered to mothers in the weeks before calving that can also increase immunity in their young to scours.

In both mastitis and scours cases, the best way to keep issues at bay is through prevention. Do everything in your power to provide a relatively clean birthing environment and promote healthy immune systems.

Cull mothers that do not adequately care for their young or that have poor udder structure. If the udders are not conformed to aid the young nursing, they will struggle. If the udder bag is abnormally saggy, there is a greater chance of contamination of manure on the teats. Make notes at birth and after regarding mothering capabilities and resist the urge to give too many chances to mothers that create problems for you. A mother that does not do her job is a liability rather than an asset and will likely pass those traits on to her young. For lasting success, only keep the assets on your farm.

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