BHEARD scholar studies bovine mastitis in Rwanda dairy cows

Bovine mastitis, the inflammation of a cow's udder, is a costly disease for the dairy industry worldwide. It lowers milk yields and quality and leads to veterinary interventions and occasional cow deaths.

Bovine mastitis, the inflammation of a cow’s udder, is a costly disease for the dairy industry worldwide. It lowers milk yields and quality and leads to veterinary interventions and occasional cow deaths.

Udder health is now entwined with milk’s overall image. Worries about antimicrobial residues, antimicrobial resistance, milk quality and animal welfare have made mastitis a concern to consumers and society at large. Milk drinkers want a high-quality, healthy and nutritious product produced by healthy animals.

According to Jean Pierre Mpatswenumugabo, a veterinarian in Rwanda, dairy farmers in his country fear mastitis more than any other disease. A scholar with the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, he’s studying for his master of science in applied microbiology at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

The goal of BHEARD, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

Mastitis is divided into two types: clinical and subclinical. Clinical mastitis (CM) is characterized by visible changes in milk (clots, color or consistency changes, decreased production) that may be associated with inflammation of the udder. Subclinical mastitis (SCM) is asymptomatic: the produced milk appears to be normal, but its bacterial loads are too high. CM is easy to detect visually, but SCM can only be detected using various tests, including the California Mastitis Test.

Mpatswenumugabo recently conducted a study to determine the prevalence of SCM in lactating cows in two Rwandan districts, and to identify the causative bacteria. He and his team also evaluated the milking procedures and management practices that influence the prevalence of mastitis.

The study was conducted from May 2016 to January 2017 in western Rwanda’s Rubavu and Nyabihu districts; 123 crossbreed milking cows from 13 dairy farms were randomly selected and screened for SCM using the California Mastitis Test. Management practices and milking procedures also were recorded. Results from the study showed a high prevalence of SCM (overall prevalence at cow level was 50.4%). A possible explanation for such prevalence could be that most farmers in the study area do not practice proper management or screen for mastitis at an early stage. 

According to Mpatswenumugabo, farmers should be educated and encouraged to practice good animal health and milking practices at all times. Good practices include regular use of teat dips and application of dry cow therapy. Adequate housing with sanitation, regular screening for early detection and application of pre- and post-dipping practices are also recommended. Proper use of such practices can reduce udder contamination and subsequent mastitis, and also can boost production and profits.

Mpatswenumugabo hopes to return to Rwanda by December 2017, where he plans to train farmers on best milking practices to prevent mastitis, as well as best milk-handling techniques. He also plans to write a Ph.D. proposal using the recommendations from his research, and to work at the University of Rwanda as an assistant lecturer. 

– Matt Milkovich

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