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Bedding as a risk factor?  

The recent inaugural meeting of the Boehringer Ingelheim Milk Quality Academy played host to practitioners, academics and opinion leaders from across Europe. Formed as a group to share learnings and the latest research, the MQA was attended by three UK and Irish vets, one being Jonny Duncan of Willows Farm Animal Veterinary Practice in Cheshire. Here, Mr Duncan reviews two of the talks and outlines some key take-home messages for practitioners. 

The effect of bedding substrate on mastitis incidence varies from farm to farm, with even supposed low-risk bedding materials having potential to harbour bacteria when badly managed. However, according to a recent study across 125 farms, there is no or limited affect of bedding type on somatic cell count or clinical mastitis levels, vet Andrew Bradley told the meeting. 

The study compared recycled manure solids, sand and sawdust beds managed in their normal way. There was a large variation in bacterial counts across all bedding types, showing that management practices are generally more important than bedding type. 

Listeria spp. was found in sand bedding, despite sand beds often believed to present the lowest risk of bacterial infection. There was also no obvious correlation between bedding substrate and total bacterial count in milk, with teat preparation routine having more effect on bacterial counts. This was particularly noticeable in the impact of pre-milking teat dip on reducing Strep. uberis cases. 

Mr Bradley added that a controlled trial at Newton Rigg college, which compared deep RMS, deep sand, shallow sawdust and shallow RMS all managed ‘normally’, found bacterial counts were highest in shallow RMS.  

Bacterial counts were lowest in sawdust. Additionally, sawdust resulted in fewer new infections in this study. However, clinical mastitis levels are low in this herd anyway, so the results for this part of the study aren’t significant. Interestingly, there was however a trend towards higher clinical rates in herds bedded on RMS. 

This was a thought-provoking and interesting study to hear about in more detail, as it often seems that we switch from one fashionable bedding type to another, with no real scientific or proven reason. The fact that management is clearly half the story is important and will impact on client discussions. 

Marketing mastitis management services 

In addition to looking at the clinical side of mastitis prevention and control, Bill May from XL Vet practice Lambert, Leonard and May said vets needed to be pro-active when it comes to marketing mastitis management services to their clients. This needs to be well thought out and targeted at both existing and potential new customers. 

With existing customers, it may be a case of familiarising them more fully with your available services and ensuring they know that you’re interested in helping them, and not just selling them a service, he said. 

Stressing this point, Mr May argued that everything a vet does can be construed as marketing. Just showing an interest in their current mastitis infection rate is a form of marketing, as it makes the customer aware that you’re on the ball.  

Equally, make sure your customers know the full range of services you offer, he adds. They will already know that you can provide dry cow therapy antibiotics and troubleshooting services. However, they may not be fully aware of the ongoing monitoring and dairy mastitis control plan work you can do with them to tackle underlying issues and limit the effects of mastitis on their herd. 

It really does come down to awareness and ongoing relationships, he added.  

One of the main messages to incorporate into daily practitioner life is that our customers are busy people. They may not have the time to investigate the services you offer fully. Targeted marketing and communications can help both you and them in the long-term. 

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