Experts call for effective and economic solutions in udder health - Veterinary Practice
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Experts call for effective and economic solutions in udder health

Veterinary Practice reports on the latest meeting of the European LMastitis Panel

The demand for milk in the world market will increase in the future. However, to stay in business, farmers will have to work economically. Veterinarians and applied scientists will also be asked how efficient and economic their work is.

These are some of the conclusions from the third meeting of the European Mastitis Panel(EMP). Seventeen experts from seven European countries attended the two-day meeting hosted by the French EMP team: Luc Durel, Francis Sérieys and Nathalie Bareille, all experts in udder health in France. The meeting was held near Lyon, in the mountainous area of south-east France.

“There is not an unique European answer to the challenges in dairy business, but we can learn a lot from each other. That’s why we are here,” said Dr Jantijn Swinkels, global technical director of ruminants at Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, who organises the meeting every year in various European countries.

The future of dairy business

The primary aim of the yearly meeting is to exchange information among European countries. The biggest challenges for the European dairy industry these days are the decrease of up to 25% in the price of milk in the last two years, the future removal of the milk quota system in 2015, and the change of structure in dairy farms.

Because in the EU, government policies, the organisation of milk production, farm size, terrain and climate are so diverse, it is likely that different economic solutions will be developed to deal with these growing problems in order to survive in the dairy industry, including:

  • intensive milk production with more milk per workforce (Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany);
  • extensive milk production with low costs (UK);
  • special milk production for special products (France); and
  • organic farming (EU)

High milk price for special production

The diversity of dairy production in the EU shows that there are numerous ways to survive. In France, for example, dairies with an average of 40 cows are widespread because milk quota is linked to land and cannot be traded on a quota market. Intensive farming is located in the north-west region of France where 50% of the country’s milk is produced. The smallest farms and traditional local production of milk is found in the mountain areas. The dairy visited by the European group was geared to produce high quality milk (AOC = Appelation d’origine controlée) for the production of raw milk cheese that is typical in that region (Rhône Alpes).

Farmers receive a higher milk price (44 cents v. 28 cents for consumption milk) because they produce milk with an added value. In order to get the higher price they have to obey strict rules:low production (< 5,000 kg/year), cows fed with grass or hay only, no silage, and a low amount of concentrates.

The price for AOC-milk bought by dairies varies regarding quality because certain contents would disturb the production of cheese(e.g. gas bubbles). They distinguish three different classes regarding the levels of Coliforms: butyric acids, Coagulase-positive Staphyloccoci, and somatic cell count (SCC).

The two main products are “Tome des Bauges AOC” and “Abondance AOC”. The cheese dairy has high quality standards for its products. They co-operate with veterinarians because their main concern is food-borne pathogens like Listeria, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Salmonella.

Research in times of empty cash boxes

Not only dairy farmers have economic problems; researchers also face difficulties raising money for their
projects. In France there are five different institutes dealing with mastitis research not very connected to each other. In contrast, co-operation among institutes often found in small countries (such as Holland) can save costs.

In the UK different institutes apply for the funding from one foundation. So competition among the institutes serves to increase improvement and progress. Experts pointed out that research does not necessarily have to be expensive. One should never forget the importance of practice and proportion in research.

“It is difficult to raise money for projects in every country these days. We have to be creative, because innovation starts with new ideas,” said TheoLam from the Netherlands.

Effective and economic dry cow treatment

New results in dry cow treatment were recently published by various study groups. The dry period is the optimal time to cure existing intramammary infection and to prevent new infection. However, the antibiotic treatment for drying-off of all cows without exception is obsolete and additionally difficult to communicate to the consumer.

Andrew Bradley, from the University of Nottingham, applied a dry cow therapy selected at the herd and cow level. In herds with elevated bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) the priority is antibiotic treatment of Gram-positive bacteria; in herds with low BMSCC clinical mastitis, the protection against Gram-negative pathogens (main cause for new infection) is most important.

The best and most economic treatment is the one that reduces the new infection rate during the dry period with minimal input. Nathalie Bareille, from the Nantes veterinary school, demonstrated the simulated computer model (Ecomast) that compares the cost of treatment to new infection rate and SCC in the bulk tank. The model showed that farmers can save money and antibiotics when they follow the most economic strategies with selective antibiotic use. She advises not to use antibiotics in cows with a low SCC (<150) and low expected new infection rate (<15%) in a herd with al low BMSCC (<180).

Dedicated group

The European Mastitis Panel has become a dedicated, well-established group of mastitis experts and an important platform for discussion and networking in Europe.

“Every year I listen, talk and discuss with my European colleagues,” one EMP-member commented. “Some ideas seem to be very traditional, others very innovative. In any case I take something home. This year it is the advancement of co-operation in my country.”

UK delegate Andy Biggs, a past president of the BCVA, commented: “These EMP meetings are always very interesting and now we have all got to know each other better I find the discussions are more frank and open.

“The different approaches by the dairy industry around the EU in terms of herd size and t ype of production are quite marked from small (40 cow) cheese-producing herds where we were in Lyon up to the large intensive herds in eastern Germany.

“The language barrier between the EMP members can make discussions difficult but of one thing you can be certain,the EMP members’ English is always better than my attempts at their languages although schoolboy French did help a bit this time.”

  • The 4th annual meeting is scheduled for Italy in May 2011. For more information, see www .

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