Treating Mastitis Organically

In two previous articles, I described various management techniques for preventing mastitis, including dry cow management and "pre-milking", milking procedure, feed quality, and milk culturing. While paying close attention to these details will go a long way towards reducing the incidence of mastitis, most farms will still experience the occasional case of mastitis, and so it is necessary to look at the best way to manage these cases once they have occurred.

The organic approach to treating mastitis relies heavily on stimulating the cow's own immune system to deal with the problem. There are a few materials and methods which seem to be popular among OntarBio's organic dairy farmers:

Vitamin C and Protein Feed is a popular combination for boosting a cow's immune system. Vitamin C is available either as an injectable liquid or as powder that can be fed to the cow. Protein Feed is a colostrum whey product available through Bio-Ag. One farmer reports treating mild cases with 20cc of protein feed injected under the skin and one bottle (100ml) of Vitamin C IV in the neck. More severe cases are treated with 2 bottles of Vitamin C and 1 bottle of protein feed, both injected slowly into the neck vein. Cows with a few flakes in their milk and high SCC are often treated 3 to 4 times with 20cc of protein feed injected subcutaneously. Another farmer injects a smaller amount of Vitamin C and protein feed subcutaneously beside the tail head to treat mastitis.

Vitamin E and Selenium is another good immune booster. A University of Guelph study has shown that Vitamin E increases white blood cell activity in cow's udders and can reduce the incidence of mastitis at freshening if the cow receives an E-Sel injection at dry-off.

Teat Infusions are used by some farmers. 60cc of olive oil in the quarter for a few days in a row is successful in some cases for one farmer. Other farmers have tried using aloe vera juice, egg whites, and honey in a similar fashion. The actual substance likely makes little difference, since any foreign substance in the udder causes an inflammatory response that can sweep away a mild mastitis infection along with the infusion. There are mixed opinions on this practice, however, given the danger of introducing more infection into the udder by not keeping everything completely sterile. Vets caution to always use a blunt infusion cannula and to only insert it a quarter of an inch into the teat – anything more will cause damage to the teat lining.

Udder Liniments are an easier, safer method of stimulating a local immune response in the udder. Udder Comfort is very popular – farmers also report that it can help with milk let-down and can lower SCC. (It also works well for skin irritations and even cold sores on people, I'm told!). Peppermint, tea tree, or oregano oil and other udder balms and ointments are also available, but check with your certifier before using any new product.

Homeopathy is widely-used to treat a variety of ailments, and mastitis is no exception. Popular remedies include Apis for cases with a lot of swelling and Belladonna for a hot, flaring situation. Aconite and Pulsatilla are also good remedies to have on hand. There are also homeopathic creams available. When attempting to treat mastitis with homeopathy, it is necessary to have a good reference book on hand to help determine the best remedy to use. If you need one of these, please contact me or your local Field Representative.

Stripping is perhaps a little too obvious to mention, but it is essential, and probably just as effective as many other techniques. Of course, the more often you strip, the better, but there are practical considerations. One suggestion is to strip the cow both at the beginning and the end of each milking, so that the cow is getting stripped out four times in only two trips to the barn.

It is interesting to note that although mastitis treatment is probably one of the top two concerns of transitioning farmers (along with weeds!), most experienced organic dairy farmers do not consider it to be a big problem. Hopefully, this series of articles on mastitis prevention and treatment have helped to explain how a comprehensive, preventative approach can reduce mastitis worries on your farm.