35 per cent of Ireland’s dairy herd may be suffering from mastitis, leading veterinary scientists warn


The criteria for Irish herds’ eligibility to supply milk for dairy processing “need to be reformulated” based on milk quality performance, leading veterinary scientists have warned.

This is a key recommendation from a new scientific study on mastitis control and intramammary antibiotic stewardship in Ireland, which found around 35 per cent of the country’s dairy herds have problems with mastitis treatment.

Although in 2020, 65 percent of herds had an acceptable milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) of <200,000 cells/mL, compared to 39 percent of herds in 2013, the research – led by the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine and led by the CellCheck technical working group (the national multi-stakeholder mastitis control program) - warns that improvements in national milk quality have now "reached a plateau". (Mastitis or udder infection generally leads to an increase in BMSCC and is an important cause of reduced milk quality.)

This comes as dairy farmers are expected to face significant challenges with dry cow therapy (DCT) later this year as important changes to the EU Veterinary Medicines Regulation come into force.

Key changes, driven largely by public health goals, include restrictions on the prophylactic use of antibiotics, so that they should only be used in exceptional cases in a single or limited number of animals, when the risk of infection is very high, or when the consequences are serious be.

According to the paper, which was primarily authored by Simon More, professor of veterinary epidemiology and risk analysis at UCD, and published in the journal Frontiers in veterinary medicineSeveral “direct and indirect issues” contribute to the sector’s mastitis and milk quality challenges.

It states: “Based on the latest 2020 estimates, 35 per cent of Irish herds had an annual BMSCC of 200,000 cells/ml or more, indicating the potential for sub-optimal mastitis control in these herds.

“National progress toward improved mastitis control has slowed in recent years. The level of milk collection in Ireland (2017: 33 per cent of herds and 48 per cent of cows) is low compared to international peers.

“The milk record provides animal-level information to support both mastitis control and prudent antibiotic prescribing. There are ongoing difficulties in finding experienced labour, aggravated by a recent period of expansion in the Irish dairy industry. These challenges can make operations management significantly more difficult.

“In 2017, only 2.5 percent of the farmers surveyed had more than one cubicle per cow. These housing restrictions also affect cow welfare and mastitis control.

“Detailed mastitis testing is also not routinely performed in response to on-farm mastitis problems. And Bord Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) standards do not go beyond what is required by law when it comes to milk quality.”

The Impact of Remote Prescribing of Antibiotics; lack of hard data on use at farm level (Ireland relies on national sales data); and the “minimal shift from flat rate to selective DCT on Irish dairy farms” were also highlighted.

In response, the study proposes several new recommendations at national and farmer levels.

The authors state: “The criteria for herd suitability to deliver milk need to be reformulated, including the corrective actions to be taken and the performance to be achieved when milk quality standards are not met.

“There is a need to use Bord Bia SDAS standards to enable improved milk quality.

“Detailed monitoring of antibiotic use on the farm is required. Electronic collection of data will be at the heart of this effort.

“Restrictions and/or bans on the use of certain antimicrobials in the dairy industry are needed.

“DCT should be restricted to therapeutic use in cows known to be infected. Individual cow information is needed to determine infection status at drying off.” 35 per cent of Ireland’s dairy herd may be suffering from mastitis, leading veterinary scientists warn

Fry Electronics Team

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