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Open Access Research

Mastitis and related management factors in certified organic dairy herds in Sweden

Cecilia Hamilton1, Ulf Emanuelson1*, Kristina Forslund1, Ingrid Hansson2 and Torkel Ekman13

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Ruminant Medicine and Veterinary Epidemiology, Department of Clinical Sciences, P.O. Box 7054, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden

2 Department of Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, P.O. Box 7009, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden

3 Swedish Dairy Association, Box 210, SE-101 24 Stockholm, Sweden

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2006, 48:11  doi:10.1186/1751-0147-48-11

Published: 17 July 2006

Abstract

Background

Mastitis is one of the major threats to animal health, in organic farming as well as conventional. Preliminary studies of organic dairy herds have indicated better udder health in such herds, as compared to conventional herds. The aim of this paper was to further study mastitis and management related factors in certified organic dairy herds.

Methods

An observational study of 26 certified organic dairy herds in mid-eastern Sweden was conducted during one year. A large-animal practitioner visited the herds three times and clinically examined and sampled cows, and collected information about general health and management routines. Data on milk production and disorders treated by a veterinarian in the 26 herds, as well as in 1102 conventional herds, were retrieved from official records. Multivariable logistic regression was used to assess associations between herd type (organic vs. conventional) and incidence of disorders.

Results

The organic herds that took part in the study ranged in size from 12 to 64 cows, in milk production from 3772 to 10334 kg per cow and year, and in bulk milk somatic cell counts from 83000 to 280000 cells/ml. The organic herds were found to have a lower incidence of clinical mastitis, teat injuries, and a lower proportion of cows with a high somatic cell count (as indicated by the UDS, Udder Disease Score) compared to conventional herds. The spectrum of udder pathogenic bacteria was similar to that found in other Swedish studies. Treatment of mastitis was found to be similar to what is practised in conventional herds. Homeopathic remedies were not widely used in the treatment of clinical mastitis.

The calves in most of these organic herds suckled their dams for only a few days, which were not considered to substantially affect the udder health. The main management factor that was different from conventional herds was the feeding strategy, where organic herds used a larger share of forage.

Conclusion

Udder health in Swedish organic herds appears to be better than in conventional herds of comparable size and production. The major difference in management between the two types of farms is the proportion of concentrates fed. The mechanisms explaining the association between intensity of feeding and udder health in dairy cows require further research.