Dairy farmers have made efforts to curb the use of antibiotics in their herds, and targeted treatments and close consulting with veterinarians have helped.
Mastitis is the No. 1 reason producers use antibiotics on their dairy herds, according to Dr. Linda Tikofsky, who serves as senior associate director of dairy professional veterinary services for Boehringer Ingelheim. But instead of throwing antibiotics at every case, farmers are using diagnostic tests to determine if the cow has a case of mastitis that will clear up on its own or if antibiotics are the right answer.
A culture from a milk sample and a 24-hour wait can drive the decision of whether or not it’s best to treat a mastitis case with antibiotics. Veterinarians can help determine if it’s a case of mastitis that will respond to antibiotics or if the cow just needs some supportive care.
Some farms using culture therapy have been able to reduce their use of antibiotics by 60%, according to Tikofsky.
With all ailments, prevention is key, said the veterinarian who is based in Upstate New York but travels the U.S. to share her expertise. “First and foremost is cow comfort,” Tikofksy said.
That includes considering stall size and bedding comfort as well as barn ventilation and heat abatement. Nutrition is another factor. Nutritionists should formulate rations balanced with protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.
In the milking parlor, prevention can mean keeping equipment in good working order and always milking clean, dry teats, Tikofsky said.
“If we can keep those cows clean, comfortable and happy, we’re going to have less disease,” she said.
She urges dairy farmers to rely on a team of experts for advice in managing their herds. Nutritionists, veterinarians, milk cooperatives and university extensions serve as good resources that can help farmers make the best decisions for their operations. “It really takes a team approach,” Tikofsky said.