Managing Mastitis

We get many queries from farmers and cheese-lovers alike about animal health. How do we manage specific issues? What are our treatments and protocols? How do organic farms differ from conventional ones? We will cover a few of  these questions through these blog posts and have created a page dedicated to animal health on our website which contains links to more specific issues and treatments.

Our industry is still young. We don’t have the hundreds of years of experience, observation and research to draw on that our French counterparts do. Our knowledge has been hard earned, through reading, talking, watching, and on occasion, and unfortunately, post mortem.

Holy GoastWe work closely with our vets and natural health practitioners, we stay updated on the latest overseas research and we are continually applying what we learn. Two of our key sources of information are the vet Hubert Karreman and nutrition advocate Jerry Brunetti. Keeping farmed animals healthy is a work in progress – every season is different, each goat has their own makeup and we must continually assess, act and react.

A common misperception is that organic farming involves gentle, minimalist, ‘hands off’ animal treatment. ‘I’d farm organically but I don’t want my animals to suffer, so I use antibiotics’ is an oft-heard quote from conventional farmers. The fact is that when an animal is unwell, we intervene, we treat and we do it rapidly and responsibly. We just don’t use antibiotics. And it works.

Animal welfare is paramount in certified organic systems. Yes, the treatment options are fewer and more complex, but organics demands that the farmer be very familiar with her herd, and constantly alert to any behavioral clues or physical signs that all is not well. Goats are stoic animals and won’t outwardly show the first signs of illlness, but when they get ill, they become very sick. It can be too late if you miss those first signs of malady.

This is one of the reasons why we keep a ‘Formulations Book’, rather than a ‘Disease Manual’. We want our staff to be thinking more about signs and symptoms and observing how the goat is presenting, rather than some clinical diagnosis of what might be wrong. By observing key signs in that specific animal, we better understand what might be happening and treat those, rather than the generic goat. The key is early recognition.

We’ve developed a list of signs and symptoms and a set of diagnostic tools to help work out what might be wrong with a goat. We use this, along with our Formulations Book to provide focused treatment for her.

Mastitis, “inflammation of the udder”, is a good case in point. A multitude of causes (environmental, genetic, herd management) can lead to infection (from a range of possible bacteria) so there’s no one answer (or treatment) for it. The udder is a good environment for microorganisms, and most are normal, healthy flora, but if the goat’s immunity is compromised, the udder can also be a harbour for pathogenic bacteria.

Numerous signs and symptoms can be associated with mastitis. If we see any of these signs, the next step is a diagnostic test. Along with using sight, touch, smell and our personal knowledge of the goat, her stage of lactation or stage of gestation and family or treatment history, we will take an anal temperature reading. We test the goat, and the goat next to her on the milking line to get a comparison, gently pressing the thermometer against the anal wall. If it is greater than 40.6 degrees Celcius we know it is time to act.

For mastitis, the CMT (Californian Mastitis Test)  – link to youtube video – is also a valuable tool. It indicates the presence of somatic cells, primarily white blood cells which are an immune response to infection (or injury, or other stresses). You can buy kits. Drawing milk from each teat into separate compartments and then adding an indicator which contains a reactant will show whether there is clotting (clinical) or slimy/gel-like (subclinical) signs of mastitis. The CMT is useful to use on new goats to the line and if we are unsure about things, as it can give us an indication of their state and if all is not well.

Speed of response is paramount. Even if we are still unsure of the specific cause, we can still treat the symptoms. There is no harm. Because goats are so stoic, by the time we do notice something, they may be three or four days into illness.

A more localised mastitis, for instance where there is hardening of the udder, or thickening in the teat, redness, clots in the milk, can be caused by cuts, bites, kicks or scrapes there, which then leads to bacterial infection. Since we milk twice daily this type of problem can be detected and responded to pretty quickly. But it does present in many forms; prominent glands, a sore back foot, so we always check the udder.

Kidding is the time when mastitis is most prevalent in goats. It is a more systemic form and usually begins with a goat being off her feed, turns into milk fever and then mastitis. If not picked up quickly and treated, the goat can cascade to a more serious infection, septicemia, and that can be fatal. We have found a strong relationship between milk fever (or Calcium collapse/hypocalcemia)  – link to earlier post –  and mastitis, so it is important to observe the animal for signs of milk fever and treat before it escalates.

A number of  treatment options are available, depending on how the goat presents. We use minerals, vitamins, herbal and homeopathic remedies, and work with the sick goat for a week to 10 days to bring her back to health. The critical thing is to treat, don’t wait. The first 24 hours are vital.

(See a recent mastitis protocol that we used to treat one of our goats here.)

Prevention is always the best. Goats with good immunity will be able to withstand the odd kick, scrape or cut to the udder. Keeping shedding, dairy and paddocks hygenic as possible and having strong genetics are all a part of this. Nutrition is a key aspect. Having a calm herd, minimal stress, happy groupings of goats. These factors all contribute.

Kidding is the most stressful time for goats (and humans!) especially our maiden does, so having them on a good plane of nutrition is important. The eight weeks leading up to kidding are critical. It’s called “lead feeding” and we have talked about this previously –  link to previous post. As well, we provide ad-lib minerals, mainly Magnesuim, stirred into water and placed next to the drinking water. Ten goats can easily consume this in two days. We also provide salt licks – link to previous post – to provide Boron and other minerals which the soils on our farm are low in.

We would strongly recommend you consult with your vet and animal health practitioners to develop your own protocols for dealing with mastitis. We have provided a guide, based on our own experiences, but your farm situation, your management, and your goats will of course be a different scenario.

Finally, best wishes for a healthy and happy Christmas and New Year period to all our supporters, distributors, retailers, market-goers and cheeselovers. And of course, to our goats.

Holy Goast