Pathogen Based Treatment: Is on-farm culturing right for your operation?

Current trends in dairy have producers asking how they can do things differently. Questions asked include how can we cut costs while maintaining production? How can we improve herd health without spending a lot of money? How can we reduce treatment costs without sacrificing herd health?

One thing to consider for all of these questions is pathogen-based treatment for mastitis. This can be done through a few different ways, but the basis for this strategy includes identifying cows with mastitis that are not systemically ill, obtaining a sample from the infected quarter(s) and culturing that sample for bacterial growth. By waiting 24 hours for the culture to grow and not treating the cow until the culture is read, producers are better able to identify which pathogen the cow is fighting and can use a treatment therapy prescribed for that. Why consider this management strategy? Often, over 20% of the time to be exact, a properly obtained milk sample will have no growth in a culture.

Dr. Daryl Nydam of Cornell University conducted a study to evaluate this strategy. A herd in NY was selected to be studied, and cows with mastitis enrolled into one of two treatments.  The first group received pathogen-based treatment, while the second group of cows received blanket mastitis treatment. In all, they found that the length of clinical signs of mastitis did not differ for either group, post-mastitis event milk production was not statistically different, and odds of 30-day post-mastitis event survival was similar between the groups. What was significantly different, however, was the fact that the group that received pathogen-based treatment had, on average, three more days of saleable milk than the group that received blanket treatment therapy. Treatment costs were reduced, and allowed for a 67% reduction in intramammary antibiotic use. In all, researchers estimate $30,000 positive cash flow per 1,000 cows when considering all the positives for the pathogen-based treatment group.

So how can this strategy be implemented? If you live in an area where there is courier service to Quality Milk Production Services (QMPS), the only training needed is how to obtain an aseptic milk sample for culturing. If you don’t, or if you want to culture on-farm, it is relatively easy to set up and obtain the proper training. Initial costs can be high with having to purchase an incubator, but costs of the plates are relatively inexpensive, running $3-$6 per plate depending on what type you choose. Many farms choose to work with QMPS to get the proper training required – sample technique, time of incubation and the interpretation of the different types of plates.  Your herd vet is also a good resource in this instance, in terms of which therapy to use in the case of growth in the culture.

QMPS and the University of Minnesota Udder Health Laboratory have an agreement in place for the supplies and support of the Easy Culture II System in the northeast. To learn more about this system, you can read their manual at and reach out to QMPS via