Treat smarter, not harder

Current economic conditions have producers considering how to get the most bang for their buck.

(Part 2 in a series from Pfizer Animal Health)


By Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health


One thing you can do to limit costs and maximize milk production is to carefully examine your current mastitis protocols. From my experience, in the average herd, the mastitis incidence rate runs about 20 percent. Dr. Pamela Ruegg, University of Wisconsin, suggests that up to 25 percent of the identified cases will be grade 3 (cases that have abnormal milk, a swollen quarter and a sick cow).(1)


Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health

Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health

If a significant amount of my cases are above that 25 percent benchmark for grade 3 then I as a producer may well be missing or ignoring the grade 1 and 2 clinical cases. Ignoring clinical mastitis doesn’t make it go away. Involve your veterinarian in conducting a review of your current mastitis identification and treatment program to better understand your current program. 

Early and effective mastitis identification and treatment improves the chances for a positive outcome and limits infection of additional herdmates. As you move forward with your treatment program there are some “rules of the road” that you, your veterinarian and treatment crew need to agree on. Establishing the rules allows the farm to create treatment protocols. It is absolutely critical for treatment success to follow the protocol in terms of dose and duration of treatment. Dr. Alfonso Lago, University of Minnesota, in an evaluation of clinical mastitis cases suggested some rules for consideration. (2)


If you have monthly somatic cell count testing, was she above or below 200,000 cell count prior to her mastitis case?

If she was below a 200,000 cell count, you have a reasonable chance at having a successful outcome. The only exception is a cow that has had mastitis two times already; the success rate drops by half for the third time though. If a cow is greater than 200,000 cell count prior to her current clinical case, the following rules come into play.


What lactation is the cow in? 

Lactation 1 and early Lactation 2 individuals potentially have a greater opportunity for treatment success. If it is a later lactation animal, think about current number of times of mastitis, milk production, value of the cow, etc. If the cow’s milk production is worth the investment, you, with your veterinarian’s advice, might want to consider extended therapy to improve the chances for a bacteriological cure. Alternatively, the animal may be a cull.


Consider how many days in milk the cow is

If the cow is 150 days or fewer in milk, treatment should be considered because there is a lot of lactation left. If the cow is late in lactation, consider alternates such as possibly drying her up early. 


Know the number of times the cow has been treated previously

If the cow has been treated two or more times during a single lactation, she should be considered a poor treatment risk. You might consider alternatives such as not administering additional treatment, kill a quarter or dry up early.


Other factors to consider before treating

If the cow has a low relative herd value and is constantly producing below-average milk or has other strikes against her, a producer might want to consider other options, including culling.

Effective herd management of mastitis is a constant ongoing battle that is subject to weather, immune system status, organism type and infective status of the herd. Take the herd off auto-pilot. Get your herd veterinarian involved with your program and review where you are at. Define the “rules of the road” that will allow you to treat smarter not harder. It pays dividends in higher milk yield and reduced somatic cell counts; both being assets that keep you in the game during these difficult economic times.


1Ruegg, Pam. On farm culturing for better milk quality, in Proceedings. 9th Western Dairy Management Conference March 12, 2009;149-159.

2Lago, A., Rhoda, D., Cook, N.B. Clinical mastitis treatment decisions and cure monitoring using DHIA SCC data, in Proceedings. 37th Annu Conv Am Assoc Bovine Pract 2004;187.  




If cows aren’t producing up to par,
maybe they need a career change


By Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health 


High costs and low milk prices have dairy producers examining the efficiency of their operations. By increasing the emphasis on an individual cow’s production rather than the herd as a whole, producers can cut wasteful spending and make better-informed management decisions, including whether a cow should be culled. 

Understanding the value of each cow helps determine which animals are not profitable when compared to the majority of the herd. It’s important to keep all the stalls filled with productive cows. By refining individual measurement, it can be determined if a particular stall is better filled with a replacement heifer rather than a low performing mature cow. 

One way value can be determined is through a record system that ranks each cow. Inputting certain parameters, such as heat detection rate, the average value of a heifer, the value of a cull and milk production, will lead to a calculated value for every cow being assessed. If a baseline number can be decided, it’s easier to figure out which individuals are not producing and what measures need to be taken to reach profitability. A producer may find that they are better served to part ways with a particular animal.

Ranking individual cows can be achieved through one of several record systems available to dairy producers. The software uses different criteria such as marginal feed costs, conception rate, heat detection rate, voluntary wait period, value of milk, heifer cost, cull value and cull rates to assign a relative value, value of a pregnancy and break-even milk for each cow in the operation. Astute producers use this system often, constantly updating the inputs to determine the value of each cow weekly.

Determining if particular cows need a career change may provide an additional benefit. In recent years, there has been a push to produce as much milk as possible out of a dairy unit, which has resulted in overstocked operations. Overcrowding actually hurts a herd’s overall milk production. As individuals are removed and operations move closer to proper stocking density, operations have even improved unit milk production and saved feed costs from fewer mouths to feed.



• The Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Plan is a 365-day approach to managing your dairy operation that focuses on the health of the dairy animal, the economic health of the dairy and the proper use of animal health products leading to a safe and healthy food supply. Pfizer Inc. is the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping companion animals live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer’s portfolio of animal products, visit