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Very little exchange of information on mastitis

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01 July 2011, at 1:00am

BETTER co-ordination and data sharing is needed to ensure the results of mastitis research are communicated to dairy farmers. This was the main conclusion from the 4th meeting of the European Mastitis Panel (EMP) which met in Italy in May. 

Sixteen veterinary surgeons from eight European countries attended the two-day meeting which included two farm visits. 

Most of the udder health research and training for veterinarians in Italy is done at the University of Milan, but there is very little exchange of information between the 15 Italian veterinary faculties, although there is lively exchange of information with the rest of Europe and the USA. 

Italian scientists often take the opportunity to improve their knowledge of udder health in the US and when they return to Italy they bring new ideas and tools for practice. This was shown by Francesco Testa, a veterinarian from Bergamo, who explained how he uses different computerised tools for his practical work in the field which he learnt about overseas. 

Examples included the decision trees for analysing mastitis problems, a calculation method for economic losses due to mastitis and the Herd Navigator (a herd management programme from Denmark). 

After he finds all the weak points on the farm, Dr Testa discusses them with the farmers. Then, in consultation with the farmer, he develops individualised farm strategies with short, medium and long term goals to reach. 

“Communication and training of staff are key issues,” he said. “We have noticed that best diagnosis and therapy are useless if the farmer does not change his daily work routine.” 

Marco Nocetti, veterinarian at the Consorzio Parmeggiano Reggiano, where the milk from 120 Italian Friesian cows is processed into Parmesan cheese at the cheese dairy next door, said: “The most important monitoring role of veterinarians is to prevent bacterial spores from faeces from entering the milk.” Clean cubicles and walking tracks, the avoidance of metabolic stress, milking hygiene and proper teat sanitation are especially important to keep milk free of bacterial spores, which could interfere with the Parmesan cheese production.

Water buffalo milked 

The mastitis panel was surprised to see 250 water buffalo on the second farm, called Agricola La Valle. The animals, originally from Asia, are kept under simple conditions in a free-stall barn. 

They are milked twice daily. The amount of milk reaches 8kg/day with 8% milk fat and 5% milk protein. The animals are very robust and rarely sick. Mastitis rates and somatic cell counts are low and demonstrate good udder health. Their milk is processed in the private dairy into tasty buffalo mozzarella. 

In Italy, Professor Alfonso Zecconi has been linked with extensive research on S. aureus for many years. Current research at the University of Milan shows the large variance of the different S. aureus strains: They differ in behaviour, virulence and interaction with the immune system of the cow. 

There are four different enterotoxins produced by S. aureus, which can help to detect and determine the risk of infection on the farm. The origin of most strains are on the teat skin and secondly in mastitis milk. Normally there are several strains in a herd, but only one strain in a cow. 

Tests with experimental S. aureus vaccines have shown that due to the large differences of various S. aureus isolates in different regions, the immunological antibody response was not always available. 

Prof. Zecconi is convinced that an improvement of the cell-mediated immune response by neutrophils can help to fight S. aureus infections. More research is also taking place in Belgium.