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170 Bear Creek Pike
Columbia, TN 38401
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Stopping Summer Mastitis

Summer mastitis can be a problem not only for dairy farmers, but for anyone with heifers, whether it is a large or small herd for dairy or beef production. Understanding this infection can help you know how to minimize the risk and keep your cows healthy.

What Is Summer Mastitis?

Summer mastitis is a bacterial infection in a cow’s udder that can cause problems for one or more teats, even causing the loss of a quarter and a dramatic decrease in milk production. Also called August bag, this infection can occur year-round but is most prominent and widespread in the summer months. Cows that are dry or pregnant are most vulnerable, but any cow could get infected.

What exactly causes this infection isn’t well understood, and it is likely that there are several ways a cow could contract summer mastitis.  The flies are often responsible for irritating the teats, or small cuts or scratches could get infected and bacteria flare up, creating summer mastitis. When a cow is infected, different symptoms will appear, such as…

  • Red, swollen teats that may become hard
  • Raised temperature
  • Listless behavior, often separating from the herd
  • Irritability and kicking if the tender teat is aggravated
  • Stiff legs or lameness, especially in the rear legs
  • Loss of appetite and overall weight loss

Not all cows will show each symptom, and it is possible for a cow to have a mild infection and recover without ever showing strong indications of illness. If the infection is not treated, however, pregnant cows may abort their calves, and in severe cases, summer mastitis can be fatal.

Preventing Infections

The best way to avoid the complications of summer mastitis is to avoid the infection altogether. While it can be difficult to treat, this illness is much easier to prevent in the first place. To minimize the risk of cows getting summer mastitis…

  • Keep udders in good condition without dry, cracked or scaly skin that could attract flies, using appropriate lotions or treatments if necessary.
  • Pasture cows away from standing water, ponds, manure piles or wooded areas where flies are more abundant.
  • Avoid pastures with nettles, thorns, burrs, briars or excessive brush that can cause scrapes or sores on udders.
  • Use fly repellents generously, including both pour-on varieties as well as ear tags, and spray fields with insecticides if necessary.

Using multiple techniques to minimize flies and keep cows from being infected will be most effective, but all cows should be checked regularly for any signs of udder problems that could lead to summer mastitis.

Treating an Infected Cow

Once the most prominent symptoms of summer mastitis are noticed, it is unlikely that the teat can be saved. Treating the infection can be sure it doesn’t spread to other quarters, however, and will help preserve a cow’s condition and pregnancy, if applicable. The infected teat should be stripped twice a day to remove as much of the infected material as possible, and the yellowish liquid may be tinged with blood or show small blood clots. Do not let this material collect on the ground, however, because it can spread the infection to other cows – instead, collect it carefully and dispose of it safely away from other livestock. Keep the udder clean, and seek veterinary treatment immediately to minimize any other health complications. The cow’s diet may need to be adjusted to compensate for the illness, and it will be important to watch the animal carefully for any change in its condition.

Summer mastitis can be a grave problem for cows, but with attentive care, good prevention and proper treatment for any infections, the risk can be minimized.