VEGA News Item

The Shame of Milk Production - Dropped Udders Damn Dairying - 01/12/2008
A case of all-to-frequently observed acute mastitis, with "enlarged supramammary lymph nodes" is the first letter in the latest issue of the Veterinary Record
1. A case of all-to-frequently observed acute mastitis, with "enlarged supramammary lymph nodes" is the first letter in the latest issue of the Veterinary Record (29th November 2008), a leading scientifically based journal in the disciplines of animal diseases and welfare and corollaries in the farming world and further consequences in food policies. However, this illustration is elevated to its prominence on the letters page by one factor out of the ordinary run of such infections in the UK: an investigation by experts at the Veterinary Laboratory Agency's centres in Warwickshire and Surrey and by a vet at the Belmont Veterinary Centre in Hereford that discloses the effects of a pathogen, Mycoplasma Bovis, rarely isolated in the UK from cows milk.

2. Mycoplasma Bovis commonly causes calf pneumonia in the UK, but the clinical presentation in the illustrated cow was "different from M. Bovis mastitis previously described in the UK, but similar to outbreaks described in the USA, where M. Bovis is a major mastitis pathogen," the authors observe.

3. The herd consisted of 165 Holstein cows "of high genetic merit", explains the communication. "Despite a high milk yield the herd had a 12-month rolling bulk milk somatic sell count (BMSSC) exceeding 500,000 cells/ml and a high incidence of periparturient diseases associated with excessive weight loss after calving. Waste milk was fed to calves, all of which were retained for breeding or until slaughter" continues the report

Buying in Trouble

4. In February 2008 five replacement cows were purchased at a dispersal sale. On March 10 one homebred cow developed mastitis and anorexia; initially the udder appeared full, but little milk could be extracted. The account continues: "The next day the 'milk' resembled semolina suspended in water. Supramammary lymph nodes were markedly enlarged, treatment with various intramammary and parenteral antimicrobials and anti-inflammatory drugs was completely unrewarding and within one week milk yield ceased. Another 8 cases occurred in the following 3 weeks, including 2 of the purchased cows. Typically, more than one quarter was affected".

5. Culture of the mastitic milk samples at the VLA identified the pathogenic bacteria as those of M. Bovis. One 6 month old calf had shown signs of otitis media (head tilt) and another had developed severe swelling of the carpus. M.Bovis was isolated from the affected joint, further tests revealed further signs of the disease: they indicated infection in 21 cattle. Including the 5 purchased cows, clinical M.Bovis mastitis cases, and healthy cows, the herd had suffered widespread exposure to the disease. "The milk production of the clinically affected cows ceased and these were separated from the rest of the herd", states the report.

6. Over the next 2 months most affected cows became lame, recumbent or both, and were culled. "The farmer was advised to disinfect clusters between cows with peracetic acid and to cease feeding unpasteurized waste milk to calves; generic mastitis prevention advice was also given. At the time of writing, no further clinical cases of M.Bovis mastitis has occurred, and the BMSSC has fallen to below 250,000 cells/ml", continue the authors of the report, advising vets of this unusual presentation of mastitis.

7. Research in the USA had indicated that the M.Bovis strains involved in calf respiratory disease and mastitis are identical, "and it is thought that M.Bovis requires a currently unknown cofactor to cause mastitis", conclude the authors of the report.

8. VEGA notes the importance of the information released in the report, but regrets the lack of concern over the pain and suffering endured by the afflicted animals; the carpus would be called the wrist in humans and dogs and cats and the knee in cattle and horses. It emphasizes in agonizing detail signs of bad husbandry in dispersals of dairy herds of all types - organic, "approved", or intensive-and the stress and distress in movements of livestock and the need to quarantine bought-in animals unless vets consider them eligible to mix with the herd. The appearance of the illustrated cow shows that she is in "poor" or "very poor" condition, and dragging her "dropped bag" over a concrete floor (owing to ligaments stretched and ruptured by excessive yields of milk, which had turned into a load of clots and pus). The cow cannot walk without kicking her udder, and her feet and teats have been dirtied; she would need special treatment and cleaning before going to slaughter.

9. The cell counts reveal the intensity of infection and of the immune reaction the cow had mounted. In present "acceptable" practices a maximum of £150,000 cells/ml is stipulated. As large herding animals cattle have stoical resistance to adverse conditions; they can retreat into inananition and recumbency, with all the corollaries of "bed sores", sustained existence as a "downer" and the danger of trampled teats when they attempt to rise. The threat of spreading resistance to antibiotics increases when treatments with anti-infective and inflammation reducing drugs are administered. Although such contaminated milk may be given to fostered calves or offspring deficient in colostrum or hastily snatched from their dams and weaned on to inadequate replacers.

10. "Good practice in dairying must also feed the physiological facts of the cow's teats and risks of infections ascending into the udder while the cows have just been milked or when they are leaking during the "dry" period preceding calving. Cows should be allowed to loaf around in a clean space for at least 30 minutes after leaving the milking parlour so that the teat canal can close to prevent ingress of pathogens and to obtain some small respite from inflammation and injury from the relentless mechanical operations of ill-adjusted equipment sucking and squeezing with little of the partnership that characterizes the love and care demonstrated in a kindly dam-calf partnership. Very high yielding cows, stimulated into excessive "production", may be leaking during the dry period at a rate of lactation similar to the output of a dam in an extensive suckler beef herd. Such leakages may be capped by applications of Stockholm tar to the tip of the teat overstocking may then occur, or may happen when milkings are interrupted bras have been tried to truss dropped udders, so that some milking may be feasible but these have not proved popular in farming practise.

11. Efforts at reducing waste and loss of dairy products past their best-by dates has led to practices of watering down or diluting "bad" milk with "good" to pass minimum standards for contaminants ("intermediate milks") and of scraping moulds off of cheeses, eg for pizzas). Our account of the dispute between British and EU inspectors over a company in this business has been resolved and we understand from enquiries to the Food Standards Agency that the firm has resumed production.

12. We plead yet again to consumers to withdraw their complicity in this merciless exploitation of mother cow (and her calves) and to resort uncowed to the alternatives offered cruelty-free and copiously exemplified in our Portfolio of eating plans. And there are surely powerful reasons for all those who claim to "do their utmost" for the animals in their care and purport to work for the prevention of easily avoidable cruelty to animals.  

Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008