South West farmers try to combat dairy disease

Mastitis is found in dairy cattle Photo: Mike Groll/AP/Press Association Image

More help is to be given to South West farmers to combat a disease which is costing the region around £42m a year.

Mastitis is found in dairy cattle, it's a very complex disease, and can among other things be transmitted by contact with milking machines, and through contaminated hands or other materials.

When a cow has the disease, milk has to be thrown away and sometimes the cow has to be prematurely culled.

The DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan has been set up to help farmers deal with the problem.


Mastitis knows no boundaries so right across the West Country from Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset and Somerset down to Cornwall and Devon. It's affecting all dairy farmers. Now with this new programme it's an exciting way to help farmers control this.**

– PAUL WARD RURAL BUSINESS SCHOOL

The scheme is run by the Rural Business School at Duchy College in Cornwall and receives financial backing from the EU and DEFRA.

On average farmers using the plan are reducing their cases by twenty percent saving themselves hundreds of pounds.

Farm Director James Coombe looks after 260 dairy cattle and is aware it's something that could flare up any time.

We're fortunate in that we don't actually suffer from mastitis too greatly but it is a big problem from the industry and given the falling milk prices if we're able to make an even better job of controlling the disease it wil have a big impact for the industry.**

– JAMES COUMBE FARM DIRECTOR

The scheme helps fund vets and consultants to work with producers to identify the main causes of problems using milk records, clinical records and on-farm questionnaires.

All this information is then brought together to produce a farm action plan detailing what should be done to tackle identified 'problem' areas.

Research By University of Reading shows that nationally mastitis could cost the farming industry as much as 244 millions pounds a year.

WHAT IS MASTITIS?

Mastitis is defined as an inflammation of the mammary gland or udder of the ewe. The term mastitis is from the Greek word mastos, for breast, and itis, for inflammation of.

The response to injury to the udder of sheep is called inflammation. Mastitis is the reaction of milk -secreting tissue to injury produced by physical force, chemicals introduced into the gland or most commonly from bacteria and their toxins.

To clarify the discussion on mastitis, the following definitions are given:

  • Udder infection -The udder cavity is invaded by microorganisms which cause inflammation.
  • Subclinical mastitis -No swelling of the udder is detected nor is there observable abnormalities in the milk. Special screening tests, however, such as the California Mastitis Test (CMT), Wisconsin Mastitis Test _(WMT) and the catalase test will show changes in the milk. This type of mastitis is referred to as "hidden." It is based on an estimation of somatic cell counts.
  • Clinical mastitis - Can be mild or acute, and there is the presence of leukocytes (white blood cells) in the milk. ****
  • ***Mild clinical mastitis* **involves abnormality in the milk such as flakes, clots, and a watery or other unusual appearance. A hot or sensitive udder may be slight or absent, however there may be signs of swelling.
  • Severe clinical mastitis involves a hot, hard sensitive udder that is quite painful to the ewe. The onset is sudden and the ewe may become ill showing signs of fever (105° -107° F), rapid pulse, depression, weakness and loss of appetite. When the whole system of the ewe is affected, the condition is referred to as acute systemic mastitis or bluebag.
  • Milk production by a ewe with a bluebag has usually ceased and the lambs will need to be reared as orphans or grafted on another ewe.
  • Chronic mastitis -A persistent udder infection exists most of the time in the subclinical form occasionally can develop into the clinical form before returning to the subclinical. The results are hard lumps in the udder from the "walling off" of bacteria and the forming of connective tissue.