Controlling Mastitis



  1. Milking technique:
    • TEAT DIP: Stimulate release of oxytocin and let-down of milk while also reducing environmental pathogens. This can be achieved by using a pre-dip (such as iodine, chlorhexidine, hydrogen peroxide dip). Dip each teat using a teat dipper cup before milking. Let the pre-dip set for 30 seconds to penetrate, then wipe off to clean and dry the teat and teat end. Be sure to only use clean towels for wiping, preferably one cow per wipe. Once dirty do not touch the teat with the soiled cloth.
    • PRE-STRIP: You can pre-strip a squirt or two from each quarter into a strip cup. (A strip cup will help detect mastitis, plus keeps milk from soiling the nearby environment.) This removes any bacteria that might have been present in the teat canal.
    • TAKE TIME & BE CALM: Be sure to take your time on this process. A cow needs a few minutes to settle into her milking stall and let down her milk. If her milk has not let down by the time you are ready to attach the machine, then give her more time and softly talk to the cow or massage her udder to let her know everything is peaceful. Be sure to wear gloves or wash your hands if you do touch the cow and get messy before handling the milk.
  2. Monitor the milking machine as you attach and detach.
    • PROPER USE OF MACHINE: Try to avoid any suction of air into the teat by improper use. Practice crimping the air hose as you attach the machine to only open vacuum into the inflation at the time the machine is on the cow. Similarly, when removing the inflation, remove air flow and slowly release suction by using your thumb to indent just above one of the inflations to let in enough air to release the machine.
    • HAND MILKERS: Clean hands before milking.
    • POST-DIP: Immediately post-dip to cover the exposed teat end (which takes some time to close up). ***In severe cold weather, post dipping can be skipped (if, for example, it’s 10 degrees F out and the teat dip will freeze to the teat). We just dry wipe the teat ends with a clean towel and make sure to follow other sanitary post-milking routines.
    • 30 MINUTE RULE: Allow an environment where the cow can stand for at least a half hour after milking to allow proper time for the teat end to close up. Feeding hay is a good way of managing this step.
  3. General Cleanliness:
    • Reduce exposure to pathogens by providing clean, soft bedding that will attract a cow toward that area rather than a dirty area to lay.We recommend freestalls.
    • Also, a good practice is to clip the udder of the cow after each calving if she has a hairy udder. This keeps the hair around her udder short and helps prevent pinching when you put the machine on and any build up of dirt and debris.
  4. Routine Testing:
    • Testing products at home can cheaply help you determine if milk is unhealthy: California Mastitis Test ( $12.95 and this amount will last you forever!)
    • Dr. Naylor’s Mastitis Cards ( $4.80 for 30 cards, temp/humidity sensitive, so keep well packaged.)
    • Your nose and taste buds are the best indicator – if something seems funny, investigate!
    • For more on how to do milk testing, click here: MILK TESTING



so here’s what to do:

Progressive Dairyman made a helpful chart to outline treatment protocols (click on picture to read full article):

Somatic cell count goal: 200,000

Mastitis comes in two forms:

  1. Clinical mastitis: This is noticably abnormal milk. You may see clumps, taste salt or another off flavor, or feel swelling and redness. The cow will likely be irritable because she is in pain.
  2. Sub-clinical mastitis: Can be measured by using CMT or somatic cell count testing, but otherwise is not very noticeable. The milk still looks normal, but an elevated somatic cell will tell you that something is bothering the cow. Bacterial cultures may or may not identify the bug.

What to do when mastitis is present:

  1. Culture the milk. Before you know how to treat the cow, you will need to know what you are dealing with. Keep on file the contact information for the nearest dairy lab. Call and ask them what they can test for.
    • On a maintenance level, you can test for SCC (somatic cell count) and for fun, butterfat and protein levels.
    • In case of infection, you will want a bacterial culture. This takes a longer amount of time as the milk is cultured to show growth of pathogenic bacteria. If any bug is present, the lab will call you and should be able to tell you which mastitis tube will be most effective. Bacteria are just like anything else, susceptible to certain drugs and not others. Of the two labs I have used, the COST per sample were $4 and $2. For the information you get, you can’t beat that price!
    • For more on how to do milk testing, click here: MILK TESTING
  2. Where to find a lab:
    • KFC forum people near you  ( may be able to give you the name of a lab.
    • You can also check online and search for “dairy lab __(your town/state)___”. If you need to MAIL the sample, be sure to call the lab first and see how they want it shipped.
  3. Where to find supplies for collecting samples:
    • Your vet should be willing to sell you sterile tubes (empty tubes, make sure they are large enough to get a sufficient sample, several CC).
    • If you’re a preventative type of person, you could order some from your nearest lab or check online at places like
    • Be sure to keep your sample tubes as sterile as possible – contamination is often the reason tests show positive!
  4. Consider contacting your vet if you feel the mastitis is bad enough that immediate action is needed (ie. no time to wait for culture because she is so sick). You should still take a sample to send to a lab before treating, because once antibiotic treatment has started, lab results may not be accurate.
  5. Where to get mastitis tubes?
    • Today and Tomorrow are generally available in well-stocked farm stores. They are the most generic of the treatments.
    • For stronger drugs, you will have to get a prescription from a veterinarian (which is why it’s good to keep in contact with them about your cow’s health). They may recommend a variety of treatments. These may include Spectramast LC or DC, Pirsue, Pen G, etc.
    • You may want to keep some on hand for emergencies. If a cow has mastitis, optimally, treatment needs to be administered as soon as infection is verified.


CAN BE EFFECTIVE (As treatment and/or support):

Some  acute cases will not respond well to non-antibiotic treatment, but alternatives can do a lot as complementary treatments. Mild or sub-clinical cases may respond completely without use of antibiotics. The decision is yours to make when deciding treatment protocol. Not being aggressive enough can result in a shy or dry quarter, meaning the cow will lose most or all of her future lifetime production out of that section of her udder.

  • Frequent milk-out – If you’ve ever read James Herriott, you may remember the story about the farmer that stayed up all night with his sick cow, milking her through the night. Herriott arrives the next morning expecting to see the cow dead, but instead she is healed and the farmer is at her side in a milking position…asleep. A cute tale, but also very effective. Milking out the infected milk is a great way to flush clean her mammary system. She should be milked a minimum of 3-4 times per day while sick, and be sure to get as much out each time as possible.
  • IV Calcium – The cow is not being given calcium for milk fever….rather, calcium is a proven effective organic method for treating mastitis in dairy cows along with IV Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C). There is a LOT of good evidence that Vitamin C (When given IV) is a very effective treatment by stimulating the immune system to defend against infection. This is a secret weapon for organic producers!
  • IV Dextrose – For energy, because a sick cow’s digestion slows or stops, so you need to keep glucose in the cow’s system to help keep her going while she recovers.
  • Massage – gently work the exterior of the affected quarter by rubbing on an udder cream that contains peppermint and tea tree oil. Both these essential oils have cooling properties that will help soothe the pain. Plus, they contain antimicrobial properties to help manage infection.
  • Poultice applied externally: Clay, activated charcoal, or oil of oregano in a carrier oil base.
  • Oral support: Addition to feed of Vitamin D, E, and apple cider vinegar
  • Tincture: Garlic

Other alternative treatments:

  • I’ve heard of Phytomast, a probiotic tube you can squirt up a cow’s teat, but have not tried it and it’s hard to come by. Plus, I think having a healthy immune system by ingesting probiotics is likely more effective.
  • A friend used a “wives tale” treatment of “whey” squirted up the teat. 1. Totally unsanitary 2. Didn’t work and ended up making her cow sicker.
  • REMEMBER: Your best organic preventative treatment is CLEAN DRY bedding!


Who else can get mastitis? Is it only lactating cows?

Good question. No, a heifer can get mastitis and so can a dry cow! The only one you don’t have to worry about is the bull or steer.

  • Prevent mastitis in heifers and dry cows by providing clean bedding and secure housing with good ventilation. Bacteria love dark, damp areas so if you do not have any, they should not thrive and harm your animals!
  • In heifers especially, mastitis can be induced by allowing heifers to suck on each other and also by flies. It may seem harmless, but when a heifer sucks on the barely developed “udder” of another heifer, damage can be serious. Many sucked heifers will calve in with shy or dry quarters, which will most likely never improve in production. They can also get mastitis as heifers or as they are calving. Some farms pre-treat heifers with antibiotics. Our opinion is that good maintenance and care are the best prevention and we do not ever treat heifers (unless infection is present).
  • Control edema in cows freshening. Study and provide for a healthy dry cow ration to minimize excess swelling.

Click the link below for a real-live scenario of cause and treatment of mastitis, written by a friend:


What Then?

There are a few important mastitis terms that help with the understanding of post-treatment care:

Environmental – Caused by contaminated housekeeping – can be a very acute sickness for up to several days, but once treated will clear up and be gone and may not ever return if the cause of contamination is resolved (wet bedding, improper cleaning of milk equipment, lack of use of post dip, manure getting past teat canal, etc.) See the information below for Acute aftercare:

Acute – Means a type of mastitis coming on quickly and causing a strong reaction, making the cow very sick. An Acute mastitis will often leave significant damage to the infected quarter:

  • The somatic cell count and health of the udder – IF treated properly – should return to normal and be safe to drink. (Please test your milk to be sure!)
  • The texture and quality of the udder will likely change in one or more of the following ways:
    • Hard spots – often described as a round lump that never goes away. This is permanent scar tissue. Mostly just cosmetic defect at this point, and may make milking-out the cow more difficult.
    • Edema can stay in the udder permanently, which can cause issues around calving time (extra stress) and can cause higher somatic cell count due to inability for the quarter to empty properly at milking time.
    • Not all cases of mastitis get these issues – every case is different.
  • Milk production will decrease due to damaged milk secreting tissue.
    • Often, decreased production is permanent – lowered for the rest of the life of the cow (the undamaged quarters often produce more milk which makes the overall reduction in milk minimal).
    • The size of the affected quarter will often seem to shrink in size compared to the other quarters – when really, that quarter is just producing less than the other quarters.

milkingThe cow in this picture had an acute environmental (e-coli) infection in her left rear quarter. The infection was very strong and made her sick for several days.

She became sick at age 4 and since treatment has had very healthy somatic cell count levels and has not ever been sick again (several years later).

Note: The left,rear quarter is much smaller due to damage to the milk secreting tissue. Therefore, when milking her, we take off that inflation early, as soon as the quarter is empty, and continue to milk the other three quarters.

Tip: Do not assume that a cow with a “shy quarter” (a quarter that is smaller than the rest) was caused by mastitis. Cows can be born with a shy or “blind” quarter – meaning that quarter was likely damaged in some way when she was a  heifer. Shy = lower producing quarter. Blind = dry quarter (does not milk at all, ever).

Chronic (the Quiet Killer) – Staph Aureus would be a type of chronic infection: Often comparatively mild and goes away within a few days, but returns time after time.

  • Treat as if contagious and confirm with a milk test – bacteria culture or DNA to diagnose the bacteria.
  • While the cow’s udder and milk may often “look” healthy, she will have a very high somatic cell count (in the millions!).
  • If left untreated, over time Staph A will damage a quarter to the point it loses all production.

Contagious A common example is Staph Aureus, spread from cow to cow, dreaded by many due to its persistence and limited ability to eradicate.

  • Before caring for the sick cow, take a moment to consider if you have other animals at risk of catching the contagious bacteria – if so, separate housing if possible and always milk/treat the sick cow last, sanitizing carefully or using separate equipment.
  • May not show any noticeable signs of infection, other than occasional flare ups.
  • Milk production may decrease.
  • The major concern with Staph A is –
    • can it be treated and eradicated? (Not good odds)
    • Increasing antibiotic resistance – this bacteria often requires a large dosage several times with no guarantee of success.
    • Withdrawal periods – If the decision is made to cull the cow, she cannot be sold within the withdrawal period. (Speak to your vet or the local auction for particular rules.)



Teat end health is paramount to the prevention of mastitis. Healthy teats protect the rest of the udder from infection. Unhealthy teat ends provide no defensive wall against bacteria entering the udder.

healthy teat end

If you look on the underside of the teat, called the teat orifice, you will notice a slight ring of lighter color. This is the teat opening, where the teat canal meets up with the teat end so that milk can come out of the udder!

Extreme teat end damage – flaring of the teat opening – can be caused by improper milking machine settings or genetics and puts a cow at great risk of mastitis.

Teat ends on certain cows may become damaged looking. The ring around the teat end can start looking like a callous or a flap of skin on the end. (See photo above)

Possible reasons for the teat ends to look this way:
1. overmilking
2. stress on the teat ends from being a “hard milker” (milking out slowly, so the machine has to be on longer, which works the teat ends more and causes callousing.
3. genetics…some cows are just not built with as functional of teats/teat ends.

What this means:
1. Longer milking time will end up decreasing overall milk production.
2. higher risk of mastitis

How to fix:
1. If machine milking, check your vacuum level. It should be around 12-13.
2. minimize milking time by massaging udder during milking and help the machine
3. Make sure your inflations fit the type of teats that your cow has.
4. make sure to use a post-dip to minimize mastitis potential.

“Teat-end damage may also be visible from a condition called hyperkeratosis, usually brought on by overmilking. Hyperkeratosis is the protrusion of keratin that lines the teat canal and appears in a ring around the teat end. When the keratin ring becomes cracked and rough – or, in more severe cases, turns hard and black – it creates the perfect environment for contagious mastitis-causing pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus to thrive. It also indicates that there may be a problem with the milking equipment or settings. The degree of hyperkeratosis depends on age and lactation stage as well as teat shape. Pointed teats may be more susceptible to hyperkeratosis than inverted teats.”….nds-Jayarao.pdf

Reference: David A. Rhoda, D.V.M. “Set mastitis monitoring goals carefully.” Febrary 10, 2011, Hoards Dairyman, 115.


6 thoughts on “Controlling Mastitis

  1. Adele

    Any suggestions for a cow with staph a? We’ve been battling it, didn’t catch it for awhile, and the vet has recommended drying her off and giving her quarter mast dc. I tried some synergy products and started milking out chunks… the vet said it’d be best to put her down as it’s hard to treat, but she’s only two and just calved this summer and she’s such a great animal. This may be a stupid question, but if we don’t use her for a milk cow, can she nurse calves? There has to be something we can do, I don’t want to put her down!


    1. It’s worth trying a dry treatment when you dry her off. (Though your vet is correct, it’s quite difficult to cure.) That’s usually the best chance of antibiotics working and it’s a plus that she’s a young cow. Yes, you could use her as a nurse cow if the dry treatment did not work. I’m wary of letting heifer calves nurse a staph A cow, but she could nurse steers/beef calves.


  2. FAQ: If my cow gets mastitis, is that it, is she ruined?

    We’ve had mastitis of many different types and from many different cows. Almost all of them can successfully be treated within a few days IF you catch and treat as soon as it shows up. Those cows can come back to 75 percent production or more in subsequent lactations. And it’s healthy milk too, cultures can show low SCC and no “bad” bacteria.Penicillin gets a bad name because it is misused quite frequently. Only a milk culture will be able to tell you which antibiotic to use, if you go that route.My opinion is that vitamins, minerals, etc are all important PREVENTATIVE measures… For full blown mastitis, as everyone says, step one is a culture. Step two can be decided by what comes back in the results. If mild, then mild measures can be taken. If severe, antibiotics must at least be considered.Bedding issues are a major source of bacteria. A lot of people like their cows to be outside, but being in wet or muddy or dirty areas equals mastitis potential. Always have a nice, dry, clean area for your cow to sleep in or be locked into in bad weather. IF you are going to have your cow outside, she needs nice grassy areas to lay in. Or bare minimum, a very dry area to lay on.


  3. FAQ: My cow has mastitis for sure. I want to get the milk checked, but what should I test for?

    Because you already know you have mastitis, the bacterial culture is more important to see WHY.Then, Somatic cell is nice to do over and over to check the health of the milk. Checking somatic cell when you know you have mastitis might give you a minor heart attack. 😉


    1. Spirited Rose Dairy

      Before milking, dip each teat and let the dip stay on there 30 seconds before wiping off. As soon as you finish milking, dip again and leave it on (don’t wipe it off this time).

      Liked by 1 person

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