With more than 40 years of experience as a veterinarian, Dr. Russ Weston has been involved in improving milk quality issues on a number of farms. He spoke earlier this year at the Illinois Dairy Summit and outlined seven steps to treat and reduce the spread of mastitis.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy
Dr. Russ Weston
  • Dr. Russ Weston

  • Veterinarian
  • Lena Veterinary Clinic

1. Regularly culture milk samples

“It’s important for you to know what the primary bug on your farm is and what your strategy is going to be,” Weston said. His practice at the Lena Veterinary Clinic in Lena, Illinois, now offers in-house milk culturing to aid its clients in establishing mastitis trends and designing the proper therapy.

He quoted his partner at the practice, Dr. Jim Hastings: “We miss things less because we don’t know and more because we don’t look.”

Weston added, “Culturing in lab has given us a better opportunity to look; then we can know more.”

2. Properly collect milk samples

“Just doing a quick and dirty strip will give you nothing but contaminated samples,” Weston said. “It is important to visit specifically with your veterinarian on how to collect quality samples so you can get quality results.”


He also recommended a sequential number of vials when collecting a large number of samples. Labeling the vial with the cow’s individual number is fine in a small group of 10 to 12 cows, but if you’re going to culture a pen of 100 cows, serial numbers of one through 100 is better. For example, if you end up with samples one through 10 negative, then 11 through 20 positive, you are more likely to see when a group of samples may have been contaminated. Simply make a list and put the cow number beside the previously numbered vial to cross reference which sample belongs to each cow.

3. Screen cows at freshening

Staph aureus can be problematic in first-calf heifers because of lack of fly control. Weston recommended screening for mycoplasma, staph and strep with every fresh animal.

4. Change gloves with every treatment

If you have a staph aureus or a mycoplasma problem, he strongly encouraged treating one cow at a time with a fresh pair of gloves each time. A simple way to do this is to put multiple pairs of gloves on each hand, then remove the used pair prior to moving to the next cow.

“If you don’t do that, it’s just like me having the flu and coming up and coughing on you, because you just carried that bacteria from the infected cow to another cow,” Weston said. “That is the most common way mycoplasma is spread in the herd, and I am convinced that it’s that way with staph aureus too.”

5. Flame udders

Weston recommended flaming udders monthly to every two months depending on hair growth.

6. Identify subclinical cases

Use the top 10 list of cows on the DHI report to make decisions to cull, dry early, treat or, if she’s chronic, don’t treat. Weston said, “There’s an economic advantage to address those cows because usually in that top 10 is 20 to 40 percent of your cell count. You can drive your tank cell count down significantly and reap a greater reward in your milk check.”

7. Allow yourself to make better management decisions

Weston had a client facing a significant klebsiella problem. He contacted an expert in bedding management at the University of Minnesota, who recommended that during the bedding process, instead of pulling bedding from the front of the stall to the back, leave what is in the front of the stall and put fresh, new bedding on the back, which is where the udder is going to be. After trying this new method, the dairyman reported his klebsiella problem went down to single digits as a percentage of his original problem and figured it was a $150,000 recommendation for his herd. Seeking advice from outside sources and being open to herd management changes is another way to improve milk quality.  PD

Karen Lee

PHOTO: Staff photo.