The average clinical mastitis flare-up can take as much as $107 per case out of the pocket of a dairy producer.

That is the total when a producer adds the various costs, says Neil Broadwater, Winona County educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

"At $12 per hundredweight for milk, the costs include $90 for discarded milk and lower milk yield, $12 for medication, $3 for labor and $2 for veterinary costs," says Broadwater. "Further, as a rule of thumb, there is a 200-pound milk loss per year for first-lactation heifers for every one unit increase in the linear somatic cell count, and a 400-pound milk loss for second lactation and older cows."

A bulk tank culture is one of the most useful tools for combating mastitis, Broadwater points out. The test is relatively rapid and inexpensive, and shows the general, types of bacteria present in cows. Results provide clues as to how the producer can reduce or prevent mastitis.

Broadwater says a producer can use results of a bulk tank culture as follows:

--If the test shows Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria are present, the source of mastitis is probably infected udders. The solution is to use individual cow towels to wash and dry, use teat dip and treat dry cows.

--Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are present, the source also is infected udders. The solution is to use individual cow towels, use teat dip, treat dry cows, cull chronically infected cows and establish a herd milking order.

--If the bacteria are non-ag Strep, the source is the cows' environment. The solution is to keep the barn and lot cleaner, milk only clean and dry cow teats, avoid air leaks and liner slip and change bedding often.

--If coliform bacteria show up, the source is the cows' environment. The solution is the same as for non-ag Strep bacteria, plus it may be a good idea to keep cows standing for one to two hours after milking until the teat canals close. To do this, make sure feed and water are available right after each cow is milked.

--If the test shows staphylococcus epidermidis, the source is usually bedding and the cow's skin. The solution is to improve teat dipping and cow preparation and change bedding more often.

"To get the most out of bulk tank testing, take samples four to five days in a row," says Broadwater. "Agitate the tank before sampling, and take a sample with a sterile syringe and needle or vial. Sample from the top of the tank to avoid contamination from the outlet valve. Freeze the sample immediately. Delays will allow bacteria to grow and give erroneous results. Pack the sample so it will stay frozen until it reaches the diagnostic laboratory."

If test results don't mesh with what you know or think regarding the herd, Broadwater suggests redoing the test later or sampling individual cows with high somatic cell counts.

The University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory offers mastitis testing kits. The kits include sample vials, a gel ice pack, an instruction sheet and submission forms. To obtain a kit or for more information, contact a veterinarian or the University of Minnesota Laboratory for Udder Health at 800605-8787.

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