Look outside the mastitis box

Look outside the mastitis box

1 June 2022

On a 300-cow, 400-hectare (ha) farm in Okaihau, Northland, owners Soryn Thomas and Penny May were at their wits' end with mastitis.

A high somatic cell count (SCC) has been an issue on the farm since Soryn and Penny took ownership of it, and as someone who admits to learning the ropes since then, Soryn welcomed an independent Milk Quality Support Visit by Farm Source.

"Before buying the farm, I'd never milked a cow," he says. "I was a builder by trade before I got into farming and started rearing calves. After two years and a crash in the calf market, it got to be too much and when I looked at alternatives, switching to dairy farming and supplying Fonterra was a great option."

Soryn is glad to have the Farm Source team to call on for support and to his credit, he's eager to learn and picks things up quickly. He knows how easy it can be to get stuck in a rut and with only one other worker, a fresh perspective has to come from beyond the farm gate.

"It's good to have another opinion," he says. "You can get so stuck in the day-to-day and forget to look outside the box."

For the Milk Quality Support Visit in February this year, it was Regional Food Safety and Assurance Manager Ryan Baxter who provided that fresh perspective. At the time, the farm's SCC was averaging 370 with a goal of reducing it to 250.

Ryan met Soryn on farm to complete a best practice evaluation to identify current on-farm practices and make recommendations on the opportunities for improvement.

He also completed a short milking time assessment before putting together a report detailing the findings and recommendations to reduce SCC.

The key advice in Soryn's report was to use an emollient and this was supported by techniques on removing the cups and trimming tails to lower the risk of bacteria build up in close proximity to udder and teat ends.

"Emollient contributes up to half the effectiveness of teat spray," explains Ryan. "Conditioning teats with emollient keeps the teat skin smooth and supple reducing the ability for mastitis causing bacterial to harbour in cracks and sores. A concentration of 10-15% emollient in teat spray should be used in higher risk periods or year-round on some farms for best results. I'm surprised by just how much I've taken away from the visit, even the small learnings," Soryn says. "For example, there was advice around milking technique and not milking out completely. It's great to have a second pair of eyes and a different way of looking at things."

Throughout the visit, Soryn asked a lot of questions allowing him to start adding emollient and incorporating the tips and milking skills into his daily routine.

"I'm a believer that any idea is a good idea, it's just about taking it all on board and then figuring out what does and doesn't work on your farm. I know some things that work for me won't work for someone else and vice versa. Thankfully Ryan was really insightful and if I run into strife, I now have other ideas up my sleeve."

A high SCC count isn't an overnight fix, but Soryn is pleased to report the changes he's made are having a positive impact.

"Going into this next season we will continue to change things and I'm looking forward to that downwards trend continuing."