On-Farm Culturing Merits a Closer Look


BY Linda Tikofsky

On-farm milk culturing can be an effective option for producers seeking to make treatment decisions sooner, save money and determine what mastitis-causing pathogens are being dealt with.

Linda Tikofsky is a professional services veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. 

At the most basic level, on-farm milk culturing will allow you to determine if the pathogens causing mastitis are gram positive or gram negative.

Several commercially offered systems are already available. Culture plates containing growth media or agar are an essential tool. In order to find these plates and other equipment necessary for on-farm culturing, turn to your local veterinarian or Extension employee for resources.

Each section of the culture plate should be swabbed with the milk sample that has been
collected appropriately. After 24 hours of incubation, you can identify if the mastitis is gram-negative or gram-positive based upon the bacterial growth pattern present. 

It is important to remember, though, when no growth occurs, there could be other organisms present, such as mycoplasma—a much more serious mastitis issue. For this reason, on-farm milk culturing should never fully replace testing at a high-quality off-farm laboratory.

Training manuals are available to assist you in reading the results of cultures. For hands-on training, contact local Extension personnel, a milk quality lab or your farm’s veterinarian.

In the case of gram positive-growth, treatment using intramammary antibiotics will provide the most effective, quickest therapy. On the other hand, infections caused by gram-negative pathogens have a high rate of spontaneous cure and most antibiotics have limited efficacy against these pathogens.
For clinical cases of mastitis, making an educated treatment decision 24 hours after detection can make a difference in cow health, treatment costs and milk discarded.

Culture outcomes should be shared with your veterinarian to develop treatment protocols for your farm. These outcomes should also be compared to the product label to make sure you get the most
informed, targeted treatment.

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