Malicious Mastitis

Clarabelle checks out her mama’s feed bin by the stanchion.

Every hero has its villain. So who’s the villain of the dairy cow? Without a doubt, it would have to be mastitis. I had to battle this villain recently, and I’m happy to report that I was victorious.

Mastitis, which is a bacterial infection, can affect one or multiple quarters of a cow’s udder. It’s quite common for a dairy cow to contract mastitis when she first freshens, which is when my cow got it, but a lactating cow can become infected at any point. 

When my family milk cow, Sienna, recently had her calf, one of her quarters became hard and swollen due to the infection. The inflammation was not only visible, but it affected the milk supply in that quarter. Her production decreased, and her milk became watery-looking. I felt very fortunate that she did not get mastitis at all during her last milk cycle. However, she did get mastitis in the same quarter during the cycle before. Usually, I first notice mastitis, because the milk that comes out has yellowish clots in it. Also, Sienna is usually very sore and tender to the touch on that quarter. This time, she didn’t seem to be sore or have the clots.

This is what the box of ToDAY medicine looks like. I buy it from my vet.

I keep some mastitis medicine on hand called ToDAY. It’s an antibiotic treatment that you squirt into the teat. If you catch the mastitis early, you can usually head it off with only two treatments. However, Sienna’s quarter was so swollen, that I was worried about how bad the infection could be. Cows can also come down with a fever during mastitis, and I thought Sienna might have one. If mastitis becomes severe, it can lead to all types of unfavorable outcomes such as loss of use in the affected quarter, spread of the infection to other quarters, illness, and death. In short, I don’t mess around with mastitis. 

I treated the infected quarter, and then Sienna took a ride to the vet clinic. Our vet said the infection was moderate, and Sienna should make a full recovery if I stayed after her treatments. Thankfully, she didn’t have a fever. He gave her an injection of an antibiotic called Excede to help her fight the infection and told me to give her three more days of teat treatments. 

Spraying the teats with iodine helps keep bacteria contamination down.

Supposedly, you don’t have to discard any milk after using Excede. But, I dumped out the milk anyway, because you are supposed to discard milk for 96 hours after your last ToDAY treatment. So, suffice it to say, I had to throw out all the milk I got from Sienna for about eight days. This might seem wasteful, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. That’s because Clarabelle still took her share. Thankfully, calves can still drink the milk during treatment. (I also let my dog and cat have some before throwing the rest out.)

This is how you insert a syringe of ToDAY into a teat.

Treatment is still a pain though. My regiment went like this: Put Sienna in with her calf. When the calf is done eating, spray iodine on Sienna’s teats, wipe off, milk her out dry. Spray infected teat with iodine again and wipe off. Take the alcohol wipe (that comes with ToDAY), and wipe off the tip of the syringe and her teat. Insert syringe and inject medicine. Massage area to distribute medicine throughout teat and udder. Put iodine on all four teats again, and let drip dry. Separate Sienna for 12 hours from her calf and repeat. You have to keep the calf off for 12 hours, so the medicine can do its work. Otherwise, the calf will just suck it right out when it nurses.

Some of you may wonder why I went with antibiotics over a natural remedy. I will discuss this in a follow-up post.

Thankfully, Sienna is all better now, and we’re able to drink her milk again. She is still producing a lot of milk, probably just under four gallons a day. I’m letting the calf stay on her all the time for now, because she’s not taking too much milk yet. In fact, I wish Clarabelle would drink more, because I’m still having to milk twice a day to keep up with Sienna’s production. As I predicted, Sienna is no longer holding her milk back from me like she did when the calf was first born. 

So, villain slain, the hero recovered, and now I can reap the milky rewards.  For a little more on this subject, check out this post.

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