The most common questions I receive about homestead dairy cattle are those dealing with mastitis. In this article, I will cover the basics about the prevention and natural treatment of mastitis in the family milk cow.
You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Nowhere is this more true than in the health of dairy animals. The foundation of organic/natural farming is to prevent the problem so you don’t have to treat it. So lets first take a look at some preventative measures you can take. The two most important things are nutrition and cleanliness.
One of the most important ways to prevent mastitis is having cows with strong immune systems. Minerals, vitamins and trace elements are very important for healthy immune systems in dairy animals. Organic mineral packages, kelp meal and Redmond salt are good sources of minerals and trace elements. We feed all these on our farm, both in our grain mix and top dressed at feeding time. Remember that most dairy grain rations are calculated for higher feeding rates than most homestead cows receive, this means that if you are relying on it for your mineral source the cows are probably being short changed. To solve this problem, many people feed kelp and minerals free choice. At first the cows eat a large amount and it seems as though you’ll go broke feeding it, but eventually as the cows requirements are met they eat much less.
Another very important aspect of mastitis prevention is cleanliness. Cows need to be kept well bedded and dry. Wet and dirty stalls and pens are breeding grounds for bacteria which cause mastitis. Mud is another place bacteria that causes mastitis loves to live. Keep their udders out of the mud whenever possible and by all means use adequate amounts bedding.
Proper udder prep at milking time can really cut back your cases of mastitis. Especially when teats are dirty, you should use an udder wash and a clean wash cloth or paper dairy towel. You should also pre dip with a teat dip solution. Leave it on for at least 30 seconds and wipe it off with a clean paper towel or clean cloth towel. Never use a towel on more than one cow. The most important thing about udder prep, that is often overlooked, is cleaning the teat ends. The end of a cow’s teat is recessed and mud and manure builds up there. If using a machine, don’t leave it on too long. As soon as you’re done, dip the teats with the teat dip again, making sure that you get good coverage.
What are some of the signs of mastitis? Some of the common signs of mastitis are a hard or swollen quarter, off colored or watery milk, and clots and puss in the milk. Cows may also go off feed (poor appetite) and have a decreased milk yield. If there is any question, you should use a California Mastitis Test. You can learn how to use this simple test at This Link.
OK, so you did all you could to prevent it, and your cow got mastitis anyway. It happens. You can’t always prevent every case. The good news is there are many ways to treat mastitis naturally and without the use of antibiotics. As an organic dairyman, I’ve found a few things that work pretty well. Here is what we do or have done on our farm when mastitis hits one of our cows.
Essential oils of peppermint, tea tree and oregano applied to the outside of the udder can be very helpful in treating mastitis. Always use a carrier oil when doing this. Using pre-made creams that have essential oils in them can also work quite well. Superior Cow Cream is one commercially available cream with all these ingredients. You just rub it on the udder after each milking. On some cases, this alone will take care of it.
It is also important to keep the infected quarter stripped out. This will starve the bacteria that might be causing the problem. In cases where the infection is making the cow ill, and causing her to go off feed, striping out the quarter will keep the toxins that are bothering her to a minimum.
Garlic Tinctures also work very well at fighting infection. We give 3 cc in the cow’s vulva twice a day. This is best done with a syringe with a little piece of plastic tubing on the end. They can be purchased from Crystal Creek.
Aloe Vera in the liquid form can be given orally at a dose of 300 cc twice a day for three days. Aloe is an immune booster and will help the cow fight off the infection.
Dried kelp meal can be fed at 2 oz. once a day to help boost the immune system.
Years ago we used, and had good results, using pasteurized whey. It can be given orally or sub-q near the tail head. You can give 30 cc every day for 3 days. After seven days do it all over again. This is another immune booster that has been used for many years.
On stubborn cases you do multiple treatments all at once. While these treatments might not cure every case, we have had good results from them.
There are two good books on natural cattle care that I recommend. Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals by Paul Dettloff and Treating Dairy Cows Naturally by Hubert J. Karreman, V.M.D.
Note~ This blog post does not constitute veterinary advise. It is for education purposes, always consult your vet when treating your cattle.
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