June 27, 2016
Solution to manage mastitis risk

Despite improvements in milk quality management, mastitis continues to challenge herd health and dairies’ profitability goals. Mastitis is the most costly disease in U.S. dairy herds, costing producers $155-224 for each mastitis case and a significant increase in the risk of culling.1,2,3 It has been estimated to cost the dairy industry over $1 billion per year.

According to Gary Neubauer, DVM, senior manager, Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis, quality milk is strongly linked to both the health and genetics of cows. “When coupled with sound milk quality management, improving health and wellness traits with genetic selection offers producers a compelling opportunity to manage mastitis risk and improve profitability.”

Manage milk quality with mastitis wellness trait
To help producers manage and reduce risk for costly health events, CLARIFIDE® Plus provides reliable assessments at an early age for six common dairy health challenges: mastitis, lameness, metritis, retained placenta, displaced abomasum and ketosis. The wellness trait for mastitis goes beyond the indirect measurement of somatic cell count (SCC) that’s available with CLARIFIDE testing through the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) by offering a direct measurement for mastitis risk. The genetic correlation between mastitis and somatic cell score (SCS) is moderate, putting an even greater importance on directly selecting for mastitis reduction. This also helps explain why the industry has not made more progress on reducing mastitis with indirect genetic selection for SCS.

The genetic risk for mastitis is measured as a standardized transmitting ability (STA), and provides the disease risk of a Holstein female being diagnosed with clinical mastitis one or more times in a given lactation. When producers select for a high STA it will apply selection pressure for reduced risk of mastitis.

The most profitable way to apply a new trait to genetic selection is by identifying its economic value and incorporating it into a selection index. The mastitis trait is included within two indexes: Wellness Trait Index™ (WT$™) and Dairy Wellness Profit Index™ (DWP$™). Using the DWP$ index includes emphasis on mastitis without compromising performance and profitability gain from other traits, such as production. While Net Merit (NM$) may result in some genetic improvement in mastitis from indirect selection on SCS, DWP$ incorporates more emphasis on the direct trait of interest and less from indirect predictor traits. Therefore, DWP$ will approximately double the rate of genetic improvement as compared to NM$ for genetic risk of mastitis.4

Powerful, reliable predictions

CLARIFIDE Plus derives genetic predictions based on data collected from millions of health records within U.S. commercial herds, including over four million lactation records from herds where cases of mastitis were recorded.  U.S. producers can be confident CLARIFIDE Plus results will be relevant to their operations with an average reliability of 51% for heifers under two years of age.4

According to Dan Weigel, PhD, Director of Outcomes Research for Zoetis, the reliability level of the mastitis trait is pretty amazing on young CLARIFIDE Plus tested calves. “It is very comparable to CDCB core traits, such as heifer conception rate and daughter stillbirth rate, which have proved to be very useful predictions for producers to make decisions from.”

To help achieve the most progress toward minimizing mastitis incidences, continue to employ best management practices in conjunction with genetic selection. To learn more about managing mastitis risk, watch the educational video Exploring CLARIFIDE Plus Wellness Traits: Mastitis. You can find more information at or by contacting your local Zoetis representative.

1 Guard, C. 2009. The costs of common diseases of dairy cattle. Central Veterinary Conference Proceedings. Kansas City, MO

2 Cha E, Kristensen AR, Hertl J. Schukken Y, Tauer L, Welcom F, Gibhan Y. Optional insemination and replacement decisions to minimize the cost of pathogen-specific clinical mastitis in dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science 2014; 07(4): 2101-2117.

3 Cha E, Bar D, Hertl J, Tauer L, Bennett G, Gonzalez R, Schukken Y, Welcom F, Grohn Y. The cost and management of different types of clinical mastitis in dairy cows estimated by dynamic programming. Journal of Dairy Science 2011; 94(9); 4476-4467.

4 Data on file. Zoetis internal data, August 2015, Zoetis, Inc.

Cattle: Most Passive Immunity Occurs in the First 6 Hours

Despite our best efforts, a few calves will be born via a long, hard delivery. They may be sluggish or weak at birth and slow to find the cow and nurse. These calves are more prone to scours or pneumonia as babies and “poor-doers” later in life.

Resistance to disease is greatly dependent on antibodies or immunoglobulins and can be either active or passive in origin. In active immunity, the body produces antibodies in response to infection or vaccination. Passive immunity gives temporary protection by transfer of certain immune substances from resistant individuals. An example of passive immunity is passing of antibodies from dam to calf via the colostrum (first milk after calving). This transfer only occurs during the first few hours following birth. Research from the USDA station in Nebraska has indicated that successful transfer of passive immunity (during the first day of life) enhances disease resistance and performance even through the feedlot phase.

Timing of colostrum feeding is important because the absorption of immunoglobulin from colostrum decreases linearly from birth. “Intestinal closure” occurs when very large molecules are no longer absorbed into the circulation and this occurs because the specialized absorptive cells are sloughed from the gut epithelium. In calves, “closure” is virtually complete 24 hours after birth, although efficiency of absorption declines from birth, particularly after 12 hours. Feeding may induce earlier closure, but there is little colostral absorption after 24 hours of age even if the calf is starved. This principle of timing of colostrum feeding holds true whether the colostrum is directly from the first milk of the dam, or supplied by hand feeding.

Provide high risk baby calves (born to thin first calf heifers or calves that endured a dystocia) at least 2 quarts of fresh or thawed frozen colostrum within the first 6 hours of life and another 2 quarts within another 12 hours. This is especially important for those baby calves too weak to nurse naturally. Thaw frozen colostrum slowly in a microwave oven or warm water so as to not allow it to over-heat. Therefore denaturation of the protein does not occur. If at all possible, feed the high risk calf natural colostrum first, before feeding commercial colostrum substitutes.

By Glenn Selk, OSU Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist

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Colostrum: The Key to Control of Early Calfhood Diseases and Death Loss

John H. Kirk, DVM, MPVM
Veterinary Medicine Extension
University of California, Davis

Dairy calves are born without antibodies to protect them from diseases. At birth, the cow passes these antibodies to her calf via the colostrum. The colostrum contains the antibodies in the form of immunoglobulins (Ig) which provide the overall disease resistance of the calf. Colostrum, especially the first milking colostrum, contains large quantities of the protective antibodies or Igs. Adequate and timely consumption of colostrum by the calf is the key factor that controls early calfhood diseases and death loss. The amount of colostrum which has been absorbed can be measured by checking the Igs in the blood. A reasonable goal for Ig in the blood is 10 g/l. Your herd veterinarian can recommend an appropriate method or lab. Less than this amount is usually termed failure of passive transfer and results in increased levels of early calfhood disease and deaths (3x to 10x increase).

Timing of first feeding

Timing of first feeding of the colostrum is very critical. Two primary factors are involved: loss of absorptive sites and bacterial colonization of the intestine. As soon as the calf is born, the ability of the colostral Igs to cross from the intestine into the blood stream begins to decrease. By 24 hours after birth, colostral Ig absorption has ceased. At the same time that colostrum is being absorbed, bacteria are attempting to enter the blood stream. The colostrum must get into the blood before the bacteria in order to prevent disease. For maximal protective effect, colostrum should be fed at birth. As every hour passes after birth, absorption is decreased. A second feeding should be given within 12 hours after birth.

Amount of colostrum

The amount fed should depend on the size of the calf. Big calves need more than small ones. The minimum amount to feed at the first feeding is 2 liters of first milking colostrum for the smallest calves, however, normal or large size calves should get 4 liters. On a body weight basis, calves should get between 10% and 15% of their body weight at the first feeding. A second feeding of first milking colostrum of the same amount should be given within 12 hours after birth.

Quality of colostrum

The amount of Igs in the colostrum determines the quality. First milking colostrum usually is of higher quality than second milking. Second milking is better than third. After that it is not really colostrum in the sense of providing protective Igs for absorption. The quality can be estimated by using a colostrometer to measure the Ig level. Older cows usually have higher quality colostrum than heifers calving for the first time. Dry cow vaccinations improve the colostrum quality. Cows with large volumes of colostrum (>20 lbs) may have poor quality colostrum.

Method of feeding

You can not count on the calf to nurse adequate amounts of colostrum from the dam. Over 40% of the calves left with the dam will have failure of passive transfer and be left unprotected. Nipple bottles are a good method as they allow the dairyman to control the time of feeding and to know the quantity consumed. Esophageal feeders can be used to save time in calves which are slow to nurse a bottle.

Nutritional benefits

In addition to the Igs which colostrum provides, it is rich in vitamins and concentrated in nutrients which the calf can use to get off to a good start. If colostrum is frozen for later use, it should be thawed slowly. Overheating colostrum during thawing (>130 F) will destroy the Igs.

Environmental interactions

Colostrum is a wonderful source of specifically targeted antibodies, vitamins and nutrients for the newborn calf. However, as great as colostrum is, it still can not overcome the effects of a calf being born in a dirty environment. Calves which are born in a manure-covered close up pen or which nurse a filthy teat when they first stand up will be overpowered by bacteria in spite of colostral absorption. All equipment used to feed colostrum to newborn calves should be kept very clean.

Bridge™ Supplements

There are no supplements for colostrum which are more conveniently located or in ample, low cost supply than the colostrum which the dam produces for her calf. Rely on Bridge™ colostrum! Commercial supplements are less effective.

Controlling Johne’s
Disease step by step
By knowing how Johne’s is spread, milk producers can set up a program to prevent and control this costly Dr. John H. Kirk
As you begin to think about Johne’s Disease in your dairy herd, keep in mind that this disease can be prevented and controlled by understanding how it is spread and how it affects cows. Half-hearted attempts at control will generally fail, so begin with a total commitment of energy and time.
First and foremost, Johne’s is a bacterial disease that is spread from infected cows to other cows and young calves in manure. Additional spread can take place through colostrum or milk. So you must start by thinking about spread through manure.Johne’s bacteria in manureStep 1: Reduce exposure of newborn calves to manure that may contain the bacteria.

  • Calve in a clean, dry maternity area. If you are wondering whether it is clean and dry enough, kneel down in the bedding. If your knee comes up wet and covered with manure, the maternity pen needs some work. Frequent cleaning and replacement of bedding is the key.
  • Remove the newborn calf from the dam before it has a chance to nurse or even attempt to nurse. Don’t let the calf ingest milk from a manure-covered teat. Ingesting manure greatly increases the risk of Johne’s transfer.
  • Avoid keeping older cows with diarrhea and weight loss in common maternity pens, as they are the high-risk cows for shedding Johne’s bacteria. Manure from cows with Johne’s contains zillions of infective bacteria.
  • Have separate maternity and hospital pens to reduce exposure to newborn calves.

Step 2: Provide clean feed for young stock and mature animals.

  • Do not feed potentially contaminated feed from adult cows, including refused feed, to young stock. The risk of infection is greatest in the youngest animals, meaning that it takes a smaller dose of Johne’s bacteria to infect a young calf compared to a yearling.
  • Use separate equipment to handle feed and manure. The same tractor should not be used to scrape a cow alley and then be used to push up feed. Manure is the source of infection.
  • Reduce crossing cow alleys and feed aleys with vehicles. Again, moving manure from one place to another is the same as moving the Johne’s bacteria from one place to another.
  • Keep adult cows and young stock in separate pastures. Provide separate sources of feed and water.

Step 3: Provide clean water for both young and mature animals.

  • Supply clean water to all animals.
  • Use trough and individual waterers.
  • Restrict run-off from pens or corrals, particularly run-offs from adult animals that may enter locations where young stock are housed.

Step 4: Keep manure from mature stock from contacting young stock.

  • Raise young stock in separate areas from older animals to prevent the potential exposure of Johne’s bacteria in old stock manure.
  • Prevent manure run-off from mature animals from reaching young stock. Remember manure and water both run downhill, so put the young stock uphill from older animals.
    The next area for consideration is the spread of Johne’s Disease through colostrum and milk. By following these steps, you will also be reducing the risk of several other calf-hood diseases.

Johne’s bacteria by colostrum and milk management
Step 1: Feed “low risk” colostrum.

3 main ways Johne’s Disease is spread

1) In manure. Controlling manure flow and separating calves are key.
2) By colostrum and milk. Feed calves “low risk” colostrum and milk.
3) Through infected cows. Test and manage infected animals.

  • Use only colostrum from healthy cows that were negative on a recent Johne’s test.
  • Give the calf only colostrum from its dam… no pooling. Pooling increases the chances of infecting many calves from a single infected dam.
  • Save colostrum from “low risk” cows by freezing or refrigerating.
  • Consider using colostrum supplements particularly if your herd is highly infected.

Step 2: Feed “low risk” milk.

  • Feed a milk replacer instead of unknown status milk.
  • Pasteurize milk or use milk only from cows with recent negative Johne’s test.
  • Thoroughly clean the udder and teats before collecting milk for calf feeding.

The final area of consideration is the management of infected cows to reduce the chances of spreading infection to other herd-mates and young stock. Again, many of these suggestions should be included in any herd biosecurity program.

Management of infected cows
Step 1: Identify and remove clinical and late stage animals as soon as possible.

  • Watch for and confirm the diagnosis of Johne’s suspects early.
  • Test-positive cows should be culled or at the very least segregated from maternity areas and young stock.
  • Colostrum from test-positive cows should not be fed to any calves.
  • Calves born to test-positive cows are at higher risk for Johne’s Disease so consideration should be given to selling them rather than keeping them for herd replacements.

Step 2: Test to manage subclinical infections and define your herd status.

  • Test a portion of the herd to determine the herd status. Testing as few as 30 adult cows can give an accurate prediction of the level of herd infection.
  • Cull, segregate or manage the test-positive animals to reduce exposure to other animals in the herd, particularly the young stock.
  • Develop a plan with your veterinarian for testing of adult cows on a regular basis.

Step 3: Be aware of the risk when adding new animals to the herd.

  • Ask your veterinarian about the risk from adding cows with Johne’s, salmonella, Strep ag, Staph aureus, BVD, mycoplasmas and footwarts.
  • Consider pre-testing animals before bringing them into your herd.
  • Isolate all newly arrived animals before mixing them with your herd. Delay mixing until you have tested for high-risk diseases such as Johne’s.

This may seem like an overwhelming list of things to do just to control Johne’s Disease. By working with your veterinarian, you can break the list down to parts that can be managed. Over time you can develop a plan that will greatly reduce the risk of Johne’s Disease in your herd.

For Your Information

Dr. John H. Kirk, DVM, MPVM is an Extension Veterinarian with the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He is based at the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare, Calif. He can be reached via email at:

More information on Johne’s Disease can be found at the U.S. Animal Health Association’s National Johne’s Working Group at or at the Johne’s Information Center at