New research shows milking robots can help farmers in their fight against mastitis

Mastitis costs dairy farming billions of dollars every year through lost milk production, discarded milk, treatment costs, reduced fertility and culled cows. Spotting and treating mastitis at an early stage is an important part of the battle against mastitis and losses in revenue.

According to the British Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) there is an average of 30 cases of mastitis per 100 cows per year (http://dairy.ahdb.org.uk), while figures released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlight that cases of clinical mastitis in dairy cows have been steadily increasing annualy from 13.4% in 1996 to 16.5% in 2007 (NAHMS Dairy Studies. Dairy 2007 Part II: Changes in the U.S. Dairy Cattle Industry, 1991-20075; page 75). 

In other words, mastitis is a constant problem for dairy farmers, regardless of location or herd size. A good cow comfort programme, combined with effective milking routines, can help reduce the number of cases. However, mastitis is a troubling part of dairy farming that cannot be eradicated. DeLaval has always believed in the importance of combining mastitis limitation and mastitis detection, which is why the DeLaval VMS™ comes with a built-in mastitis detection tool.

“We know how costly mastitis is for dairy farmers, which is why we do as much as we can to help them fight it,” says Thierry Perrotin, Business Manager for VMS at DeLaval. “It was obvious to us that when you have true quarter milking you should provide a simple yet effective analysis tool as well. And that’s why we developed the mastitis detection index – a system that warns farmers if a cow is in danger of infection.”

Individual milk meters provide true quarter milking in the VMS™

The DeLaval Mastitis Detection Index MDi™, operates on a scale of 1 to 6, which indicates the health of an udder or quarter. It does not calculate the exact somatic cell count. There are dedicated analysis solutions for that such as the Online Cell Counter. But it does determine if a cow is in risk of getting mastitis. MDi measures conductivity, blood, milk flow and milking interval per quarter and generates an index score. Armed with this information a farmer can decide which steps to take – monitor a cow or treat a cow. 

In fact, recent research carried out at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Hohenheim showed how effective the MDi is for dairy farmers. In the study “Use of the measuring sensors in automatic milking for the detection of mastitis in agricultural practice” Katharina Henning found that small differences (in the index) among quarters were a real indicator that a cow is in the danger zone. The MDi calculates this and creates an alarm if it registers an index score difference of 0.5 or more between quarters.

Mastitis becomes more prevalent in the summer months as air temperatures rise and feed intake decreases.  Source: Master thesis by Katharina Henning.

It’s not just differences in quarter scores that are important, though. If a quarter has an index score above 1.4, a farmer should take action even if it means just checking the animal for mastitis symptoms, such as udder swelling, redness or hardness, a rise in body temperature, lack of appetite, or sunken eyes. If a quarter has an index score of 2.0 or above, the risk of getting mastitis is even greater and further checks should be made, including a somatic cell count.

“The research, which was carried out on ten farms across Germany that milk cows with DeLaval VMS milking robots, also confirmed the effect warm temperatures have on cow health. Cases of mastitis almost double during the summer months, so an early warning system such as DeLaval MDi, is particularly useful. It can help farmers take the appropriate action to protect a cow and stop mastitis from spreading.”

Over the years, there has been conflicting research regarding how much a farmer can save per cow by reducing the number of cases of mastitis, but there is consensus on farmers benefiting financially by reducing the number of and the severity of mastitis cases on a farm. This can mean possible savings on medicine and labour, minimising milk losses due to drops in production or discarded milk, or reducing the number of culled cows.

There are also ongoing discussions about the use of antibiotics on dairy farms. Research has shown the positive impact that early, antibiotic-free treatment has on cows with mastitis. There is clearly a need for tools, such as the MDi, which help farmers lower the use of drugs to combat mastitis. 

The DeLaval Mastitis Index MDI is a proven tool for combating mastitis. It informs a farmer if a cow is in danger of getting mastitis.

“The MDi, which comes as standard with every VMS, is an invaluable tool: one that our customers really appreciate. It’s effective, reliable and easy-to-use. And getting indications at an early stage helps farmers stay one step ahead in the fight against mastitis. Combining this information with good cow comfort and clear standard operating procedures, can help cut costs and improve profitability,” concludes Thierry Perrotin.