Managing Environmental Mastitis

Clint Thompson Alabama, Dairy, Florida, Georgia

Environmental mastitis continues to be a costly challenge for dairy producers.

Managing environmental mastitis continues to be both a common and costly challenge for dairy producers across the country. And due to weather conditions, this disease seems to be even trickier to manage for producers here in the Southeast.

Boehringer Ingelheim has put together a question and answer feature with two veterinarians to help provide information for producers. John Laster, DVM, owner of Todd County Animal Clinic and Dairy Diagnostic Laboratory in Elkton, Kentucky, and Stephen Foulke, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, Boehringer Ingelheim, share their answers to commonly asked questions about coliform mastitis on dairy farms.

How does coliform mastitis differ from other mastitis infections?

“Coliforms are considered to be an environmental pathogen,” said Dr. Foulke. “All mastitis gains entry into a cow through the teat end. However, unlike contagious pathogens that are spread from cow to cow, environmental pathogens can be found anywhere cows are housed, such as in bedding, the milking parlor and in manure.”

Environmental pathogens include Streptococcus and related species (not Strep. agalactiae), Staphylococcus species (not Staph. aureus) and coliforms such as Escherichia coli and Klebsiella. While most E. coli related-infections are acute, Klebsiella can cause chronic or recurring mastitis infections. In fact, these pathogens are associated with up to 70% of severe mastitis cases.1

“Although uncommon, another thing that makes coliform mastitis different is that it can actually produce an endotoxin release, which severely decreases milk production and can lead to eventual death of the cow,” explained Dr. Foulke. “Cows that do recover from this systemic disease never really make it back to the peak production they once were at.”

Why are herds in the Southeastern U.S. often at higher risk of infection?

“In the Southeast, producers are usually fighting challenges associated with humidity,” Dr. Laster remarked. “When dairies are dealing with increased temperatures, rain and mud, it can be harder to keep bedding clean and dry in order to minimize the risk of coliform mastitis infections.”

What management practices can be implemented to prevent and manage coliform mastitis?

“I always go back to basic cow management,” said Dr. Foulke. “Anything we can do to keep the cows dry, clean and comfortable is going to help prevent cases of coliform mastitis.”

Both Dr. Laster and Foulke recommend working with your local herd veterinarian to:

  • Ensure proper milking procedures are in place. Focus on milking clean, dry, well-stimulated teats.
  • Test water prior to usage in the parlor, and medicate if needed. Water used in the parlor can hold hundreds of coliforms per cubic centimeter. Consider medicating the water with iodine or chlorine to ensure the water used to clean milking units does not introduce any new mastitis infections.
  • Culture milk to identify the specific pathogen. Effective prevention and management practices vary, depending on the type of coliforms you’re dealing with.
  • Optimize cow comfort and cleanliness. Maintain clean, comfortable and dry bedding and facilities, and adhere to proper stocking densities. Cows lie down 12–14 hours a day, and their teats are in direct contact with the material where they rest.
  • Be aware of conditions that may initiate an outbreak of coliform mastitis. Prevent cows from accessing environments that likely harbor coliforms, such as standing water or mud.
  • Develop a strategic vaccination schedule.

What does an effective vaccination schedule look like?

Vaccinating for coliform mastitis helps to reduce severity of the infection and reduce yield losses, which is sufficient to offset the cost of vaccination, and provides an estimated $2.5:$1 return on investment.2 Dry-off is a good time to ensure cows are up to date on all vaccinations, including a coliform mastitis vaccine.

“At a minimum, I recommend vaccinating for coliform mastitis at dry-off and again in the mid-dry period, to build up the cow’s immunity prior to freshening,” said Dr. Foulke. “Many herds benefit from an additional vaccination later in the lactation as well, especially herds in the Southeast that frequently see mid- to late-lactation coliform issues.”

“Each farm is unique,” concluded Dr. Laster. “A veterinarian can help you design a vaccination schedule based on your herd’s environment, and troubleshoot any disease challenges that occur.”

To learn more, visit

1 Becker C, Stone A. Dry cow therapy: Choosing the best protocol for your dairy. Mississippi State University Extension Service. 2018. Available at: Accessed October 3, 2019.

2 Klaas C, Zadoks RN. An update on environmental mastitis: Challenging perceptions. Transbound Emerg Dis 2018;65(Suppl. 1):166–185.