About Dairy Wellness

Danger lurks for your heifers
Posted by Bradley Mills

Heifer mastitis probably isn’t on your list of priorities. Since heifers haven’t produced milk before their first lactation, you might not think mastitis is a concern. However, according to new research1, coagulase-negative staphylococcus (CNS) mastitis is a common culprit for mastitis cases in first-lactation heifers.

What is CNS mastitis?

CNS bacteria can be described as “skin flora opportunists” since they are part of the normal teat skin flora. They colonize the teat canal, and some are free-living in the environment.

Because your fresh heifers represent the greatest opportunity for future milk production in your herd, you don’t want to miss out on high-quality, high-volume milk because of mastitis infection.  Heifers are an easy target as they come in contact with mastitis-causing pathogens, including CNS, throughout their prefresh life. Research shows that up to 90% of the heifer population is likely to freshen with preexisting intramammary infections.2

Exposure happens from:

  • Suckling of other calves
  • Feeding of colostrum or unpasteurized whole milk from infected heifers or cows with high somatic cell counts
  • Contaminated pen surfaces
  • Commingling of heifers with dry cows
  • Flies

Help manage heifer mastitis at every stage:

Preweaned calves

  • Feed colostrum collected from healthy cows with clean udders
  • Pasteurize whole milk before feeding it to calves
  • House calves in individual pens or hutches

Post-weaned heifers

  • Monitor heifer pens for suckling and separate offenders
  • Keep pens clean and freshly bedded
  • Minimize buildup of spoiled feed

Breeding-age and calving-age heifers

  • Inspect teats for fly bites or excess scabs from fly bites
  • Watch for unusual udder swelling or leaking teats
  • House close-up heifers separately from close-up cows
  • Calve heifers in clean, freshly bedded pens

Pre-fresh heifers

  • Support their ability to fight mastitis by supplementing micronutrients such as selenium and vitamin E
  • Vaccinate heifers at seven and eight months of gestation, followed by the third dose within two weeks postpartum for Escherichia coli

If you detect mastitis symptoms, such as swollen quarters and teat secretions, it’s prudent to work closely with your veterinarian to address these symptoms. Your veterinarian is in the best position to help devise a treatment program that’s safe for the animal and the food supply.

1Michigan State University Extension. CNS mastitis – what is it anyway? Available at: Accessed September 17, 2014.

2 Trinidad P, Nickerson SC, Alley TK. Prevalence of intramammary infections and teat-canal colonizations in unbred and primigravid dairy heifers. J Dairy Sci 1990;78:107-114.


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