Feeding mastitis milk to organic dairy calves: effect on health and performance during suckling and on udder health at first calving

Background: Infection pathways of S. aureus udder infections in heifers are still not well understood. One hypothesis is that calves become infected with S. aureus via feeding mastitis milk. Especially on small-scale farms, pasteurisers are not economic. The purpose of this randomised comparative study was to investigate the influence of feeding milk containing S. aureus genotype B (SAGTB) on the health and development of calves and udder health of the respective heifers. Additionally, a method reducing the bacterial load to obtain safer feeding milk was tested. Thirty-four calves were fed mastitis milk from cows with subclinical SAGTB mastitis. One group was fed untreated milk (UMG). For the other group, milk was thermised at 61°C for one minute (heat treated milk group = HMG). After weaning, calves were followed up until first calving. A milk sample of these heifers was taken at first milking to compare udder health of both groups. Results: Thermisation of milk led to an effective reduction of S. aureus in the feeding milk. 78% of the analysed pools were free of S. aureus, a reduction of at least one log was obtained in the other pools. Quarter milk samples revealed that two heifers had a S. aureus intramammary infection, but caused by a genotype different from genotype B. During the suckling period, the UMG had a significantly higher incidence rate of 1.09 diarrhoea cases per 100 calf days at risk compared to 0.26 cases per 100 calf days in the HMG (p < 0.05). Conclusions: Under the conditions of this study, no effects of feeding milk containing SAGTB on udder health after first calving were observed. But a power analysis indicated that the sample size in the current setup is insufficient to allow for assessment on mastitis risk after SAGTB exposition, as a minimal number of 4 calves infected (vs. 0 in the HMG) would have shown significant effects. High bacterial load, however, was associated with an increased incidence rate of diarrhoea. Thus, thermisation as a minimal preventive measure before feeding mastitis milk to calves might be beneficial for maintaining calf health.


Abb-Schwedler, K., Maeschli, A., Boss, R., Graber, H., Steiner, A., Klocke, P., Feeding mastitis milk to organic dairy calves: effect on health and performance during suckling and on udder health at first calving, BMC Veterinary Research, Volume: 10 Issue: 1 Pages: 267-277 Published: 2014.