Udder health


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'Udder health'


This is a place where you can discuss all technologies and data related to udder health. Please use the menu on the left to navigate to the discussion forum, or upload/download documents.






Sooner or later, every dairy farmer will be confronted with mastitis problems. Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder tissue that occurs when micro-organisms (mostly bacteria) enter through the teat canal. The disease results in significant economic losses and has a negative impact on the welfare of the affected cows. Mastitis is also the most common reason for using antibiotics in dairy cattle.


Current mastitis sensors


The International Standard ISO/FDIS 20966 of the International Standard Organization includes an annex which describes the minimum requirements of systems for detecting abnormal milk. The test should have a minimum sensitivity of 80%, combined with a specificity of more than 99% (i.e. less than 1 false alert per 100 milkings). In practice, the accuracy of mastitis detection methods in AMS depends a great deal on the algorithms and the combination of multiple indicators.


  • Electrical Conductivity (EC)
EC is a widely used parameter to detect mastitis. The measurement is based on an increase in sodium and chloride, which leaks from the blood into the milk during inflammation. However, the EC can also be affected by other (non-mastitis) related factors, such as fat content, temperature, .... EC on its own is inadequate for detecting mastitis, but the accuracy can be improved by combining other detection methods. 
  • Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
In case of mastitis, LDH -an enzyme found in nearly all cell types- increases. The real-time, inline measurement of LDH can detect mastitis with a sensitivity of >80% and a specificity of >99% (although the results depend on the applied biomodel). DeLaval's Herd NavigatorTM is currently the only commercially available system for the detection of LDH. 
  • Milk color
Milk color can be used to detect mastitic milk, colostrum, milk with blood, … The measurement is based on the reflection of light. The sensors are usually sensitive to red, green and blue wavelengths of light. Since the milk color depends on the milk fat % and nutrition, yellow coloration does not always indicate mastitis.
  • Milk temperature
The milk temperature can be a valuable screening tool for identifying sick cows, although the technique has inherent limitations. The temperature varies a lot between cows, within a day, and it depends on various external factors (such as the position of the temperature sensors). 
  • Somatic cell count (SCC)

Due to a massive influx of neutrophils, the SCC strongly increases following an intramammary infection. The SCC can be measured in three ways: (1) directly, by dying the nuclei of cells, (2) indirectly, by hydrolyzing DNA and measuring the gel-formation or (3) by measuring the bioluminescence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

  • Thermography
A relatively new way of detecting mastitis, is through infrared thermography or thermal imaging. The thermal camera can detect an increase in the temperature of the udder skin, caused by an increased blood flow to the mammary gland. Agricam is a Swedish company that distributes these cameras, and the accompanying software. 


Automatic milking systems


Nowadays, more than 25.000 dairy farmers worldwide rely on automatic milking systems (AMS). The transition from conventional milking systems to AMS is often associated with udder health problems. Many dairy farmers report an increase in the bulk milk somatic cell count after the introduction of AMS. Possible reasons might include an insufficient teat cleaning, ineffective systemic wash, poor hygiene management, ...

Yet, the European legislation (Regulation [EC] No.853/2004) states that all milk ought to be “checked for organoleptic or physico-chemical abnormalities by the milker or a method achieving similar results” and that abnormal milk cannot be used for human consumption. Automatic milking systems must therefore be equipped with various sensors to detect macroscopic irregularities in milk.


Table 1. Overview of the different AMS brands and their sensors to detect mastitis. 

  GEA Boumatic Lely DeLaval SAC Fullwood
Milk yield x x x x x x
Milk color x x x x x x
Conductivity x x x x x x
Temperature     x     x
Cell count     x x    
Fat & Protein     x     x
LDH       x    
Lactose           x
Last update: January 30, 2017.