Despite the poor price for milk, herd health and nutrition cannot be neglected because the long term effects could be very serious.

Apart from the relatively new diseases which have been receiving a lot of attention in recent years there are many consistent problems occurring every year on dairy farms.

Leptospirosis is present in the vast majority of dairy herds, especially in large open herds. 

Vaccination against this disease has become routine in most herds. It can cause serious human health problems.

Common problems caused by mastitis, lameness, parasites and metabolic diseases are a constant threat to herd health but these can be kept under control in well managed herds. 

All aspects of the Teagasc/AHI mastitis control programme should be carefully followed; e.g. the milking machine should be in perfect working order, chronically infected cows must be culled, cows should be calved in well disinfected areas and good milking practices such as teat dipping/spraying should be carefully carried out.

Cubicles should be kept thoroughly clean and dusted with lime, especially around calving time when cows are very susceptible to mastitis infection. Mastitis infections around calving time can affect udder health for the remainder of the season.

Lameness is still a problem in many herds. Cows that are not lying in cubicles or showing any signs of lameness should be removed to a straw bedded house or soft bedded area before serious lameness infection sets in. 

Cows should be prevented from walking on rough areas as this a major cause of lameness. Preventative foot bathing and treatment should be carried out regularly.

Parasite infections are relatively easy to control by following a preventative programme but are often neglected. Most young stock gets adequate treatment for internal parasites at housing. Dosing cows for worms is a practice that is increasing fairly rapidly.

There is evidence that it improves milk yields and fertility as well as condition. Check products for safety and withdrawal periods. Animals on most farms should be properly treated for fluke.

Perhaps the parasite treatment that is most neglected is for lice. The damage that lice can do is underestimated. They can kill but of course the usual effects are poor performance and susceptibility to other diseases.

Lice products have different coverage periods but generally animals need a few treatments during the winter. Check the products for safety and withdrawal periods.

Metabolic diseases, associated with feeding before and after calving, are causing frequent problems at both clinical and sub clinical level.

Actions needed to protect cattle

* Regularly clean and disinfect all calving areas and calf houses using a disinfectant that is effective against diseases normally present on your farm.

* Change bedding as often as possible in calving and calf houses and use plenty straw as it provides comfort and dilutes any possible infection.

* Supervise all calvings. The proper use of colostrum is the greatest weapon that farmers have to prevent health problems in calves.

* Make sure all calves get sufficient colostrum (3L) and navels disinfected as soon as possible after birth.

* Levels of antibodies in colostrum drop by up to 50% after first milking.

* Antibodies are absorbed through tiny holes in the calf’s intestine. These holes start closing after 2 hours and are completely closed after 24 hours.

* Where cows are vaccinated, feed colostrum over a prolonged period in order to get full benefit from vaccination.

* Carefully check the individual health and thrift of all animals and don’t neglect animals that are showing any signs of ill health.

* Milk record herd and join Munster Herd health scheme


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