Mastitis is can be a huge problem in some cow/calf operations.
Mastitis is the inflammation of a heifer or cow’s mammary gland.
University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service Veterinarian Heidi Ward said the vast majority of cases are caused by common bacteria in the environment such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus and E. Coli.
“The infection spreads from one teat to another via suckling of the calf,” Ward said.
The bacteria are usually spread by flies.
“Fly control is also very important,” Ward said. “The more manure, the more flies, the more likelihood of mastitis.”
Wet, muddy environments have also been a concern in spreading the bacteria.
Ward said mastitis can affect weaning weights.
“[Mastitis] is a problem to cow-calf operations because mastitis causes a decreased yield in milk resulting in reduced calf weaning weights,” Ward said. “Furthermore, mastitis can disrupt the interplay of hormones that bring cows back into estrus, thus delaying breed back.”
Mastitis usually occurs in the first month of lactation or the drying off period after weaning.
Ward said signs of mastitis in beef cattle differ depending on the severity of the infection.
“In severe cases, the udder is red, swollen and painful and the cow has a fever which causes depression and a decreased appetite – if untreated these cows may die,” Ward said. “A cow with mastitis will not want to walk much and will keep her ears down.”
In milder cases, the udder may appear normal and the cow will not have a fever.
It is tough for a beef producer to spot mastitis unless the cow-calf pairs are observed very closely throughout the day Ward said.
Unlike beef producers – dairy producers can detect mastitis through the milk quality – which makes it easier to catch.
Because the beef cows are still nursing, treatment of beef cows are different from dairy cows.
Ward said that the antibiotic and route of administration depends on the infection.
“Mild infections, if detected in the first place, usually aren’t treated in beef cows as long as the calf is not bawling and the cow is eating well,” Ward said.
An infected teat can have an off taste or not produce at all – causing the calf to not nurse.
Ward said that the reason most mild cases go untreated is because sometimes medicating beef cows is hazardous.
“The reason mild cases are not treated is that it is very difficult and dangerous to give beef cows intra-mammary antibiotics, Ward said. “They are simply not as docile as dairy cattle.”
However, if the case is more severe antibiotics could be required.
“If more severe and showing systemic signs, a systemic injectable antibiotic along with an intra-mammary antibiotic is typically used for 3-5 days along with an NSAID injection to reduce fever,” Ward said.
While the mother is being treated, it is important that the calf be bottle fed or grafted onto another lactating cow.
Ward said mastitis can cause future production problems.
“It is important to note that even with treatment, that particular teat may have scaring that prevents milk production in the future,” Ward said. “If teat conformation is leading to mastitis, then that cow/heifer should not be used for breeding. “
Prevention is always the best way to deal with mastitis.
Ward said keeping the environment clean by giving cow-calf pairs plenty of room is important – especially in indoor winter calving facilities.
Ward said she also recommends good nutrition and vaccinations.
“Along with controlling the environment, every effort should be made to maintain the cow’s immune system through nutrition and vaccination,” Ward said.


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