Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bad Day: Mastitis Rears Its Ugly Head

WARNING:  Graphic photos.  No gore, but definite ick factor.

Following an online milking forum and hearing about all the high-producing Jerseys with serious mastitis problems, I've been thinking, "Lucky I Dexters because they almost never get mastitis."  I'm afraid I jinxed ourselves!  Today as always, I squirted milk out of each quarter to visually check it for mastitis before milking, and I got a very nasty shock:

Those clumps are one of the first signs of mastitis.  To be sure, I tasted milk from that quarter, and it tasted salty, the telltale sign.

I knew to try to squish a clump and see if it was thickened cream that would smear away.

Not only did it not smear away, it strung out mucus-ly, to coin a word.  This is not good!  There wasn't a lot of milk in that quarter (more in a minute), so I squirted it out onto the floor.  The other three quarters looked fine visually, and I squirted some milk into the palm of my hand to taste--no salty taste.  So I milked the other three quarters as usual and brought the milk into the house.

Still a bit leery, I observed the milk carefully as I strained it.  It was definitely slower than usual going through the filter.  So I examined the filter closely when I was finished and saw several little clumps.  This is for the birds--literally!  This milk is going to the chickens.

I got on the phone to my vet, but to my shock, he doesn't believe Siobhan has mastitis.  So I called two milking friends and asked their advice.  They were both clear:  If there are lumps, she has clinical mastitis.  That means it isn't questionable or possibly developing--she HAS mastitis!  Without the vet in my camp, what to do?

First of all, I want to know why--and why in the quarter where it is?  Remember this photo from the other day?  See how much smaller the left front quarter is (on the left in this photo)?  See how the teat is wrinkly and not full like the other one?  Although I had observed the reddish tint to the rear quarter in this photo, I think it's a photographic effect because Siobhan's quarters don't feel any warmer than usual and she evinces no sign whatsoever of tenderness to milking or even massage.

Here are the two right quarters for further comparison.  Even the lower-producing front quarter (on the right in the photo) still shows the teat full compared to the floppy one above.

After discussing with my friends, we agree that Siobhan is almost certainly self-sucking and that she has likely caused this problem herself by sucking on the drying off quarter.  It wouldn't be the first time that an animal that sucked on a dry heifer or cow actually gave her mastitis by irritating and damaging the teat and quarter.  Quite some time ago I suspected that Siobhan was self-sucking this one quarter, and that's why I bought weaning rings.  Herb and I had quite a rodeo trying, unsuccessfully, to get one in her and finally gave up.  I figured she already had the habit and it didn't seem to be hurting anything.  How wrong I was!

Too late--but better late than never--I learned the boiling water trick for softening up a weaning ring, and Siobhan is now sporting what I refer to as "The Big Guns."  It went in amazingly easy, all by myself!  How I wish I had known that trick a couple months ago!  I just tied her head pointing up as close as I could to a fence post, got the ring out of the hot water with the tongs (having previously loosened the screw to make it as large as possible), slipped one side in one nostril and before I could even twist the ring to open it wider, it slipped into the other nostril!  THAT was an answer to prayer!  In between her head tosses, I gently tightened the screw until I thought the ring would stay in her nose and not come out as easily as it went in.

You can pretty well see that Siobhan is not going to try more than once to get to her teat when she pokes that thing into herself!

Siobhan and Macree are now commiserating with each other:  "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours."  (Sorry, if I don't laugh at something, I'm going to cry!)

Since the vet isn't on board with treating Siobhan, here's the advice I'm acting on.

  1. I contacted the Tennessee Quality Milk Laboratory at UT Knoxville.  These wonderful people are all about mastitis, and they are amazing!  I spoke with a doctor there who passed my message on to a lovely lady named Susan.  :)  She is going to expedite a kit to test all four quarters for mastitis along with instructions and everything needed.  The bad news is that the lab will be closed next Thursday and Friday, so she made an incredible offer . . . if I will drive the collected samples up there on Saturday, she will meet me at the lab (since she has to work anyway) and get the tests started.  That should give me the results early next week.  Did I say "amazing?"  Hopefully, armed with the results of the tests, I can enlist my vet's aid.
  2. I had already stopped Siobhan's alfalfa supplement as soon as I put the weaning ring in Macree, and I'll stick with that.  We need to avoid giving her anything that would increase milk production.
  3. I will be milking out the affected quarter up to four times a day.  I have to be very careful not to touch the other teats at the same time to avoid infecting any unaffected quarters.  I'll continue to monitor the other quarters and milk them out every other day.
  4. I have ordered a CMT (California Mastitis Test) kit from Jeffers because they are located nearby in Alabama and can get it to me quickly.  This checks for somatic cell count, giving a range than indicates mastitis, unlike the TQML tests which will tell me the exact organisms I'm dealing with.  Hopefully I can get these results quicker than the TQML ones and maybe get the vet's help once I have proof of mastitis.
  5. I have also ordered some Dynamint, a minty udder balm from Hamby Dairy Supply.  This balm has a great following among dairymen who swear by it for treating udder edema, preventing mastitis, helping let-down, and even treating mastitis caught in its early stages.  I hope and pray that's where we are!
  6. In case the vet does not get on board with me, or in the event of a delay in results from TQML to give him, I also ordered a treatment called Tomorrow from Hamby's.  This is an oil-based antibiotic teat infusion that is very effective in treating a broad spectrum of organisms that cause mastitis.  For now I just ordered two tubes for the quarter I know is affected, trusting that the problem will stay where it is, isolated in one quarter.
  7. One last piece of advice that I got from the man on the phone at Hamby's I will not be following.  He was very helpful and extremely knowledgeable, and I could tell from the way he asked his question that he probably knew I wouldn't be following his advice.  "Did you raise this cow?" he asked.  "Yes," I told him, "and I bet you're going to tell me to cull her."  "Yes," he said.  That is a true dairyman's advice, and it makes sense.  But Siobhan is my baby.  I handpicked her sire, braved her dam's horns, and raised her from a baby.  She was my first calf ever.  I halter-broke her.  I trained her to milk, and learned on her!  She raised a healthy, hefty heifer all the while giving us plenty of milk for our household.     

So, what if Siobhan was taking some milk for herself?  What if she has given herself mastitis?  That's my fault for not being more pro-active in dealing with her self-sucking!  I will now do my dead-level best to break her of this habit.  She'll wear the weaning ring until she's completely dried up.  She'll wear it again when she starts to bag up this spring and as long as she needs to until I'm sure she's stopped her bad habit.  I believe she developed it out of boredom while shut apart from Macree at night.  I don't plan to use her as a milk cow this coming year, so hopefully she'll never do it again.

I'm going to hope and pray that I never, ever see her after another cow.  It's a GOOD thing she and Ebony aren't friends!  Go Ebony!  Just keep chasing Siobhan away every time you see her!  If I ever see her after another cow, then I'll cross that bridge, if and when I come to it.

Right now, I have some mastitis to deal with.


  1. What a disappointment but sounds like you are making progress in attacking the problem! Hang in there! Is mastitis a self-limiting infection or does it absolutely require antibiotics from the vet? Just curious, what does the mint do? Keep us posted when you have time. Sounds like you will be busy with her.

  2. Hey Susan, how are things going? Haven't heard anything out of you and just wanted to make sure that you're ok. If there's anything I can do, please call me -- you've got my number.

    1. Things are going well, Fran. Thank you so much! Things have been crazy around here in other areas besides farm stuff, so I haven't been online at all. That quarter is almost completely dried up, though, so I don't even know if I can get enough to test. I've emailed the lady at the lab to see. I'll post again tomorrow when I get home, assuming I go up to Knoxville.


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