Intramammary infections and risk factors in freshly calved heifers in Swedish dairy herds

J Dairy Sci. 2023 Nov;106(11):7893-7907. doi: 10.3168/jds.2022-22995. Epub 2023 May 18.


Subclinical mastitis can be common among freshly calved heifers (FCH), but the prevalence differs between herds, possibly due to variation in risk factors. The aims of this observational study were to identify differences in occurrence of intramammary infection (IMI) in FCH between herds with documented good or poorer first-parity udder health based on cow somatic cell count (CSCC) in early lactation, and to study herd differences in animal factors important for udder health, such as udder and hock skin lesions and animal cleanliness. Three groups of herds were included: those with high proportions of FCH with low CSCC (≤75,000 cells/mL) at the first 2 milk recordings after calving (LL), herds with high proportions of FCH with high CSCC (>100,000 cells/mL) at the first and low CSCC at the second recording (HL), and herds with high proportions of FCH with high CSCC at both recordings (HH). Thirty-nine herds (13 LL, 11 HL, 15 HH) were visited 3 times during a 12-mo period for observation of cleanliness and hock lesions, and sampling of udder and teat skin using swab cloths of milk-fed calves, early-pregnant heifers, and late-pregnant heifers. In 25 (9 LL, 9 HL, 7 HH) udder quarter samples from colostrum and milk on d 3 to 4 after calving were taken by the farmers from FCH during one year. The farmers also provided information on calving (individual or group), use of restraint and oxytocin at milking, and presence of teat and udder skin lesions. Bacterial growth in swab samples and quarter samples was investigated by culturing, and a selection of isolates was genotyped using whole-genome sequencing. Cleanliness, hock and udder skin lesions other than udder-thigh dermatitis, and growth of bacteria in swab samples did not differ between herd groups. It was more common that FCH from LL herds, compared with FCH in HH and HL herds, calved in a group of animals. Use of restraint at milking was more common in LL herds than in HH herds, whereas presence of udder-thigh dermatitis was lowest in LL herds. Specific infection was found in 14% of 5,593 quarter samples from 722 FCH. The most common IMI was Staphylococcus chromogenes. Growth of Staphylococcus simulans was more common in HH than in LL and HL herds. In colostrum samples, Staphylococcus haemolyticus was more common in HL and HH than in LL herds. The proportion of quarters with the same specific infection at both samplings was higher in HH than in LL herds and tended to be higher in HH than in HL herds. The proportion of quarters with Staph. chromogenes IMI at both samplings tended to differ between herd groups and was highest in HH herds. Whole-genome sequencing found the same sequence type of Staph. chromogenes and Staphylococcus aureus in both samples in almost all quarters with the same infection at both samplings. The differences in IMI between herd groups were in line with the higher somatic cell count in HH herds. The reasons for the predominance of Staph. chromogenes IMI in FCH need further studies.

Keywords: Staphylococcus chromogenes; cleanliness; mastitis; skin lesions; whole-genome sequencing.