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Selecting the Right Tube Can Help You Combat Mastitis More Efficiently

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
May 27, 2015

Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Selecting the Right Tube Can Help You Combat Mastitis More Efficiently

By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (05/27/15) — With Memorial Day marking the “unofficial start of summer,” it seems that spring is quickly heating up in to summer.  For dairy farmers, that also means the return of a season that brings the highest number of mastitis cases on their farm.  I spend a lot of time talking about managing your cows to prevent mastitis, such as keeping the environment dry and clean and separating cows with a contagious pathogen.  Sometimes, no matter how well you manage for mastitis, a cow will still come down with it.  You may find your only solution is to treat the cow’s infected quarters with a mastitis tube. 

Prior to coming to Extension, I spent a summer as a sales intern.  The product I sold was mastitis tubes.  I noticed that many farms used a single type of tube on all mastitis cases.  While that isn’t bad, it may not be the most effective method.  It’s important to treat for the pathogens you are fighting, and not all mastitis tubes treat everyone.  Along with that, it’s crucial that you understand every selection factor related to picking the “right” mastitis treatment for your herd. 

Understanding the different components of mastitis tubes and their labeling can help you select the correct treatment for your infected cows.  A good first step is culturing the milk of infected cows so you know which pathogens you are treating.  As always, you should consult with your veterinarian before administering any medication to your animals.

Here are the selection factors you should consider:

  1. Antibiotic.  The antibiotic is the actual drug that the mastitis tube contains.  Some examples of antibiotics are amoxicillin, ampicillin, and penicillin.  Knowing the drug in your mastitis tube is helpful, as some herds can become immune or resistant to certain drugs over time.
  2. Bactericidal vs. Bacteriostatic treatment.  These two terms refer to what the antibiotic does to the bacteria/pathogen.  Bactericidal treatments will kill the bacteria; bacteriostatic treatments will slow the bacteria’s growth or reproduction.  The majority of mastitis tubes on the market are bactericidal.
  3. Spectrum.  The spectrum of the tube indicates the range of bacteria an antibiotic will treat.  Broad spectrum tubes will treat a wider range than narrow spectrum tubes; however, narrow spectrum mastitis tubes may be more effective against specific pathogens—especially if you know what pathogens you are treating as a result of culturing milk samples.
  4. Dosage.  The dosage tells you the size and frequency of the antibiotic that should be administered to the cow.  The units of size are expressed as an entire tube.  Frequency can vary from two tubes in 12 hours to one tube every 24 hours for 8 days, and everywhere in between. 
  5. Milk and Slaughter Withholding Times. The withholding time for milk and slaughter are important to pay attention to.  They indicate how long (after the last treatment) the antibiotic will remain present in the cow’s body.  Milk or meat found to contain antibiotic residues will be rejected and not used for food products.
  6. Product Indications.  The product indications will give you more information about what the mastitis tube is marketed to do.  Typically, it will list some common pathogens it treats, type of mastitis it best treats (subclinical/clinical), and sometimes if it treats strains of bacteria resistant to other antibiotics.

After educating yourself and selecting your tubes, it’s also important that you administer and manage the medicine properly.  Pay close attention to the dosage--you should do only what is instructed to avoid over-medication.  If you have any questions about the dosage and whether you should change it, ask your veterinarian.  Along with that, pay very close attention to milk and slaughter withdrawal times.  Note that these times are listed to begin after the LAST administration of medicine.  It’s always better to err on the side of caution and withhold for an extra 12-24 hours.  Keep in mind that milk with antibiotic residues is dumped, and meat is rejected.  Following the guidelines is smart, safe, and responsible.   

Summer can be a tough time to manage mastitis, but if you take preventative precautions and treat confirmed cases properly, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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