Studies outside the Nordic countries have indicated that subclinical mastitis (measured by milk somatic cell count or the California Mastitis Test), intramammary infections (IMI), or blind quarters in beef cows may have negative effects on beef calf growth. Knowledge on prevalence of such udder health problems in Swedish beef cows is scarce. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to investigate subclinical mastitis, IMI and udder conformation in a number of beef cow herds. Production of β-lactamase in staphylococci was also investigated. Associations between certain cow factors and subclinical mastitis and IMI, and associations between cow and calf factors and 200 day calf weaning weight were also studied. The herds were visited once within a month after calving and once at weaning. Udder examination and quarter milk sampling, for somatic cell count and bacteriology, were performed in 8 to 12 cows per herd and occasion.
Approximately 50%, 40% and 10% of the cows had subclinical mastitis, IMI, and at least one blind quarter, respectively, but the prevalence varied markedly between herds. Intramammary infections (mainly due to staphylococci) were identified in 13-16% of the milk samples. Less than 5% of the staphylococcal isolates produced β-lactamase. Approximately 11% of the cows sampled twice had the same IMI (mostly Staphylococcus aureus) at both samplings. Cow factors of importance for subclinical mastitis and/or IMI were teat and udder shape, breed, parity, presence of blind quarters, and cow hygiene. No significant associations were found between udder health parameters studied and calf weaning weights.
Subclinical mastitis and IMI, but not blind quarters, were common in beef cows, but the prevalence varied markedly between herds. Most IMI were caused by staphylococci and more than 95% of those were sensitive to penicillin. Cows with large funnel-shaped teats or pendulous udder after calving, and cows with blind quarters were at risk of having subclinical mastitis and/or IMI. Poor hygiene was also a risk factor for udder health problems. No significant associations were found between udder health and calf weaning weight. More studies on risk factors are warranted to improve advisory services on awareness and prevention of mastitis in beef cows.