For the hobby or backyard farming enthusiast, the decision to purchase a dairy cow to provide the family with raw milk and other dairy products is a major investment as well as the chance to enjoy a long relationship with a bovine buddy. Not only is there a significant cost involved in purchasing a healthy dairy cow, there will also be significant expenses for breeding, hay, supplements, bedding, housing, veterinary care and the equipment needed to process and store the milk safely. If the cow develops mastitis, the milk will not be able to be consumed while she is sick and the benefits of keeping the cow will be reduced or even eliminated. If you have acquired a family cow to provide milk for your family, or are considering doing so in the future, the following information will help you reduce the risk of your cow getting mastitis and help you speed her recovery, should it develop.
Inflammation and infection
Mastitis is a term used to describe an inflammatory reaction in the mammary tissue of milk producing mammals, such as the dairy cow. Initially, it is usually caused by insufficient milking or hygiene practices that allow bacteria to enter and infect the cow's udder like the following:
- not milking the cow regularly at ten to twelve hour intervals to keep bacterial counts, known as somatic cell counts (SCC) from building in the udder
- using unsanitary udder cleaning techniques that allow bacteria to enter the teat openings, such as exposing the teat openings to dirty water or soiled cleaning rags
- not using a teat dip to help seal the teat ends after milking and prevent bacteria from entering
- not providing clean bedding and well-drained pastures to prevent the cow from lying or wading in mud or manure
Recognizing early signs of mastitis
In most cases, mastitis symptoms are easily recognizable to even the new dairy cow owner.
- change in the appearance of the milk, including the development of flakes or clots that can be seen when straining the milk
- fever, swelling or edema in one or more quarters of the udder
- signs that the cow is experiencing pain or discomfort while being milked, such as kicking, shuffling her feet or flinching during the milking process
Alleviating mastitis symptoms
In mild cases, or when mastitis is discovered in the very early stages, it is usually possible to alleviate the symptoms by emptying the cow's udder much more frequently to reduce the bacteria counts and restore healthy milk production. To do this, add two or more additional milking times to the daily schedule, ideally emptying the udder completely every 4-6 hours for 24-48 hours. If the cow appears uncomfortable, applying hot compresses to the udder or massaging it with a soothing udder balm can help to relieve discomfort and make the milking process easier. If, however, more frequent milking does not alleviate the symptoms of mastitis, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately and have them run tests to determine the type of bacteria that is causing the mastitis problem and prescribe the appropriate medication to resolve it.