Udder health in Canadian dairy heifers during early lactation

S Ali Naqvi, Jeroen De Buck, Simon Dufour, Herman W Barkema
Journal of Dairy Science 2018, 101 (4): 3233-3247
Mastitis is the most prevalent and costly disease in dairy cattle worldwide, with implications for animal health and welfare as well as production and economics. Nonlactating heifers are an often-neglected group of animals concerning mastitis management, as they are assumed to be free of mastitis. An observational field study was conducted between 2007 and 2008 on 91 dairy herds across Canada, representative of provincial averages of bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) and barn type. The aims of that study were to (1) estimate in early-lactating heifers overall and pathogen-specific incidence rate of clinical mastitis (IRCM), prevalence of intramammary infection (IMI), and prevalence of subclinical mastitis (SCM; defined as SCC ≥200,000 cells/mL); (2) compare these udder health parameters between heifers and multiparous cows; and (3) determine regional patterns and variations in these udder health parameters across BMSCC categories. During the first day of lactation, IRCM was higher in heifers than in multiparous cows (99 vs. 48 cases per 10,000 quarter-days at risk, respectively). Clinical mastitis affected 4% of heifers (0.73 cases per 100 quarters) in the first 30 d after calving, with the most common pathogens isolated being Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, whereas S. aureus and non-aureus staphylococci were the most commonly isolated pathogens in multiparous cows. The IRCM in heifers was highest in Ontario heifers, but overall IRCM did not vary by BMSCC category and it was only higher in multiparous cows than heifers in high-BMSCC Ontario herds. Intramammary infections were present in 33% of heifer quarters, with non-aureus staphylococci the most commonly isolated group of bacteria in both heifers (26% of quarters) and multiparous cows (18% of quarters). Pathogen-specific prevalence of IMI did not differ between heifers and multiparous cows, but we noted regional differences and differences across BMSCC categories in pathogen-specific prevalence of IMI. Prevalence of SCM in heifers was 13.6% and was lowest in Alberta herds. In all regions, SCM prevalence was higher in multiparous cows than in heifers. In conclusion, udder health of Canadian dairy heifers was similar to that of other countries, demonstrating the importance of the issue. Differences between heifers and multiparous cows early in lactation highlighted the need for management practices to target the precalving period in heifers, when exposure to risk factors differs from that in lactating cows.

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