By Debbie James

A Carmarthenshire dairy farmer has adopted a new strategy for managing udder health, slashing antibiotic use in his herd and capturing income from previously unsaleable milk.

Cows with high cell counts were pushing up the herd’s average somatic cell count (SCC) at 300-acre Penlan Farm, Llanwrda, and threatening Ioan Davies’ milk price.

To combat this, Mr Davies invested in cell count readers to identify these problem cows.

In conjunction with testing, those animals were given a bolus containing allicin, a compound that is produced when garlic is crushed or chopped.

The bolus is designed to be used as an alternative to antibiotics in clinical and sub clinical challenges.

Some of Mr Davies’ cows had cell count readings of 800,000 cells/ml and higher but after bolusing 70 per cent were below 250,000 cells/ml after just one treatment.

“As with antibiotics, we don’t expect it to work on every cow so I’m really pleased to be getting positive results in seven out of ten cows. It’s as good, if not better than we would expect with antibiotics,’’ he says.

Mr Davies runs a flying herd of 250 cows of mixed breeds including Holstein Friesian, crossbreds, Ayrshires and Jerseys which he sources from livestock marts and direct from farm.

Cows are producing an average annual milk yield of 8,000 litres at 4.1 per cent butterfat and 3.4 per cent protein.

The Bactoscan is never higher than 50 – it is currently 35 – and the herd’s cell count average is now 188,000 cells/ml, a figure which Mr Davies says he could never have achieved without the Maycillin bolus.

Cows are tested with the cell count reader which uses a traffic light system – those that fall into the red and amber zone are given two boluses.

The highest yielders in that group or those that are prone to mastitis during lactation are given another two three weeks later.

“I am now not spending anything on antibiotics, I am not getting milk price penalties for high cell counts and I can sell the milk from the cows that have had the bolus – if I had given them antibiotics I would have had to hold their milk back for 12 milkings,’’ says Mr Davies.

“Some of my best cows are giving 12,000 litres so that is a lot of milk to withhold.’’

Responsible use of antibiotics is an approach Mr Davies has embraced, only giving dry cow therapy to cows that need it at drying off.

For three years, sealant only has been used on cows that haven’t had a case of mastitis in the previous lactation.

Last year, 80 per cent of the herd was dried off without antibiotic tubes.

The herd has an all-year-round calving pattern and was at grass this year for a record seven months, from March 25 to October 23.

At housing, cows receive a TMR and any that yield more than 21 litres get concentrates fed to yield in the parlour, to a maximum of 4.5kg per milking.

Improving udder health has made Ioan’s job more enjoyable and his income has improved too.

“Our cell counts over the last six months have been so good that the system is working,’’ he says.