If you thought Mycoplasma organisms were a problem only on big dairies, think again. Since it was first reported in a Connecticut herd in 1961, the organism has been identified on operations of all sizes in every state. Contagious, tough to detect and virtually untreatable, Mycoplasma has been implicated in pneumonia, eye infections, arthritis and other disorders that cost U.S. producers an estimated $140 million annually in lost production, culling and death. Because infected cows can remain outwardly normal while continuing to shed intermittently, dairies that aren’t actively screening for Mycoplasma may not know they have a problem until it’s too late.
Is your dairy at risk? No operation is immune, but studies suggest the following factors play a significant role in determining the likelihood of Mycoplasma organisms:
- Herd size. Of the three major pathogens on U.S. dairies – Staph. aureus, Strep. agalactiae and Mycoplasma spp. – only Mycoplasma has been definitively correlated with herd size. At least one in four operations of 500 cows or more has tested positive for the organism, according to the most recently published data from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS). As dairies consolidate and herd size increases, the risk may continue to grow. Small operations shouldn’t be complacent, however; positive bulk tank milk cultures have been reported by dairies with fewer than 100 cows.
- Geography. Not surprisingly, operations in the West, which tend to be larger, also have the highest percentage of Mycoplasma identified via milk culture: 30.2 percent compared to just 5.1 percent for dairies in the East. If you manage a herd in a high-risk region of country, ask your veterinarian how to best incorporate Mycoplasma testing into your fresh cow and clinical cow protocols.
- Introduction of new animals. Adding mature cows with latent Mycoplasma infections to the lactating herd is a primary risk factor, but new calves and heifers can be silent carriers as well. Rigorously segregate and screen new arrivals, ideally with a real-time PCR-based pathogen detection system designed to identify targeted pathogens in hours, not days.
- Milking hygiene. Because Mycoplasma organisms are most commonly spread from cow to cow via milk transfer during milking, the use of gloves, individual towels, pre- and post-dips, and other aseptic techniques can help reduce the risk of transmission of pathogens of all kinds.
- Bedding management. Mycoplasma require three things to survive: moisture, warmth and a food source. All three are typically found in abundance in bedding, particularly manure solids and other organic materials. Sand is a better solution, but recycled bedding sand has been found to harbor live Mycoplasma pathogens for up to eight months. Proper separation, conditioning and drying of bedding material may help reduce the risk of new mastitis infections caused by Mycoplasma and other pathogens while improving overall cow comfort and milk quality.
Regardless of herd size, location or management protocols, the best way to reduce your dairy’s risk is through routine early detection with a highly accurate, reliable system designed for quickly detecting difficult-to-culture organisms like Mycoplasma. Ask your veterinarian if the Acu-POLARIS Detection System is right for your operation or contact Acumen Detection for more information.
Cai, Hugh Y. et al. Development of a real-time PCR for detection of Mycoplasma bovis in bovine milk and lung samples. J Vet Diagn Invest 17:537-545 (2005).
USDA: APHIS. Dairy 2014: Milk Quality, Milking Procedures, and Mastitis on U.S. Dairies, United States Department of Agriculture (2016).
USDA APHIS: Mycoplasma in Bulk Tank Milk on U.S. Dairies, United States Department of Agriculture (May 2003).
USDA APHIS: Prevalence of Contagious Mastitis Pathogens on U.S. Dairy Operations, 2007 (October 2008).
Justice-Allen, A. et al. Survival and replication of Mycoplasma species in recycled bedding sand and association with mastitis on dairy farms in Utah. J. Dairy Sci. 93:192-202 (2010).
Wilson, David J. Herd-level prevalence of Mycoplasma spp mastitis and characteristics of infected dairy herds in Utah as determined by a statewide survey. JAVMA, Vol 235, No. 6, September 15, 2009.