Smallholders with lactating cows must be aware of the dangers of bovine mastitis. This is the inflammation of the udder and can be caused by bacterial infection or physical trauma. It can lead to a reduction in milk production, and can be very painful for the animal.

For small-scale dairy farmers, mastitis is a big concern and treatment can become costly. A cow that has had mastitis previously can take longer to get pregnant again, adding to the cost of owning her. And, milk production is reduced, as well as the quality of her milk.

Prevention of mastitis starts with making sure your cow has a dry period between weaning and her next pregnancy. Studies have shown that infection with mastitis in up to 60% of cases actually originated during the dry period.

After drying, a plug made of keratin forms in the animal’s teat canal to close off the teat and udder to outside pathogens. If lactation is induced too quickly after weaning, this plug does not have sufficient time to form and pathogens can enter the mammary system. The speed at which this plug grows varies from animal to animal.

In high-producing cows, there are ways around this. Teat sealants have been used successfully in other parts of the world and are starting to emerge in the market in South Africa. But, for small-scale producers, prevention in other ways might be more cost effective than buying medicaments.

Ensure your milking machines are properly functioning by doing adequate maintenance at regular intervals. Keep your milking machines and shed clean. Make sure your cows go through adequate dry periods between lactation periods. This will vary according to breed, age and size of the cow. Keep up to date with vaccine schedules to prevent compromised immune systems.

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