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Mastitis — Not Just A Problem With Dairy Cows

Even though we think of mastitis as more of a dairy disease, producers still need to be vigilant in their beef herds. With higher milk production and cows being retained in our herds longer, both these factors have a tendency to increase mastitis incidence.

Mastitis or inflammation of the mammary gland results in swelling in the infected quarter together with heat and soreness. Affected cows may have a guarded walk because of the pain. If a severe infection or when more than one quarter is involved the cow may be febrile and depressed. The quicker we initiate treatment the better. Stripping out the infected milk together with systemic antibiotics such as penicillin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) as well as treatment with approved products up the udder is my preferred method. This has the greatest chance of success.

If in stripping the quarter out you detect air, these are often the serious infections. The bacteria produce gas with toxins and can be life threatening. Unlike dairy cattle where we must consider milk withdrawal this is not an issue with beef cattle so using the dry cow treatments is an option. The dry cow therapies have a much longer effectiveness and for beef cattle which may be harder to treat pose a very viable option. Make sure and comply though with any slaughter withdrawals as dry cow infusions have slaughter withdrawals ranging from 30 days and higher. Follow your herd veterinarian’s recommendations.

It may be necessary to poultice the infection to the outside if a large abscess develops. In severe cases the infection will wall itself off and the whole quarter may slough off. The cow may totally recover and the problem is eliminated for next year.

Calves seem to avoid sucking the affected quarter(s) so I personally don’t worry about them becoming sick from infected milk. Keep an eye on their flanks though to make sure they are getting enough. If the mastitis makes the cow physically sick, their milk production will drop dramatically and the calf may need to be supplemented. In severe cases the calf may need to be orphaned to another cow as the udder may dry up completely.


Many times mastitis in beef cows is not caught quickly enough or there is a smoldering infection which starts after weaning and becomes clinical when the cow calves the following year. These are chronic infections and the odds of clearing them up are very rare indeed. My advice here is either shipping the cow or you can attempt to dry up the infected quarter. It has been found that a three-teated cow will compensate for milk production and produce almost as much milk as if all four quarters were functional. Talk to your veterinarian what they would recommend as there are many concoctions which appear to work. Varying concentrations of silver nitrate, copper sulphate and other products have been tried so see which one has worked for your veterinarian.

The ideal time to do this is after weaning when the cow is naturally drying off. When a cow is producing milk it becomes difficult to dry one quarter off while expecting the others to keep producing. Once the quarter is chemically dried off it will scar down and should not produce milk again, thus eliminating the chance for reoccurrence.

In my exper ience two groups have a higher incidence in the beef herds. The younger, good-producing cows that have a tendency to leak milk at or around calving are one, and the old cows with the low-slung broken-down bags are the other group. Good selection for udder and teat conformation goes a long way to preventing mastitis problems further down the line.

Cows with larger, what I call “coke bottle teats” are not only a bother because the calves have difficulty sucking; they often are the quarters which develop the mastitis. Culling older cows that develop the poor teat and udder conformat ion (broken-down suspensory) will eliminate these problems before they develop. These cows become very evident at calving and become labour intensive getting the calf to nurse. A good option is orphaning their calf to another cow should the opportunity present itself.

Never ever cut the teat end off or lance into the udder to drain an abscess. The udder and teats have a very good blood supply and blood loss can be severe.

By proper selection of replacement stock and being vigilant and calving in a clean area mastitis can be kept to an absolute minimum on beef farms. If you do observe a case be aggressive with treatment on advice from your veterinarian.


roy lewis



Goodselectionforudderandteat conformationgoesalongwaytopreventing mastitisproblemsfurtherdowntheline.



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