An investigation was undertaken with the object of ascertaining to what
extent quarters which have always been free from infection with known
pathogenic bacteria secrete abnormal milk, and to determine the role played
by the various aetiological factors in the production of such milk.
The data forming the basis of the investigation were derived from the
results obtained by regular analysis of milk samples from the individual
quarters of ten grade Friesland cows over a period of four and a half years.
Two cows completed three lactations, one completed three and a half lactations
and the remaining seven each completed four lactations during the
period under review. The cows, which were recruited as pregnant heifers
before their first calving, remained free from tuberculosis and contagious
abortion, and bacteriological examination of the milk at four-weekly
intervals, or more frequently when circumstances warranted it, consistently
failed to detect mastitis streptococci or other pathogenic micro-organisms in
the quarters. Infection of the udder could, therefore, not be incriminated in
those cases in which the milk was abnormal.
The following six factors were used as criteria, namely, solids-not-fat,
fat, chloride, lactose, chloride-lactose index and cell content. Tests for
solids-not-fat and fat were conducted at weekly intervals during the first two
years and fortnightly subsequently. The other four factors were determined
from afternoon samples of milk at four-weekly intervals.
The mean obtained for each of the six factors conformed in every case
with the standard prescribed for normal milk. Nevertheless a large proportion
of the individual samples at various times yielded results which failed
to reach the required standards.
Every one of the forty quarters at some time or other secreted milk which
was of abnormal composition, and all twelve quarters of three cows yielded
milk which was abnormal in the majority of the tests.
The results obtained furnish striking evidence of the unreliability of all
the recognised tests for streptococcus mastitis, which are based on detecting
changes in the composition of the milk.
(i) Age. All quarters excepting those that showed evidence of secretory
disturbance revealed a slight increase - which was statistically insignificant - in
solids-not-fat content in the second lactation. After that the quality of
the milk declined, the difference in solids-not-fat content between the second
and third lactations being significant.
Fat percentage decreased consistently after the first lactation.
Most of the cases of secretory disturbance were encountered during the
second lactation. This was responsible for a marked increase in the mean
chloride percentage from 0.1123 in the first to 0.1378 in the second lactation.
The third and fourth lactations revealed a slight drop to 0.1367 and 0.1354
respectively. The mean chloride content of the milk in the first lactation
was significantly lower than that of the other three periods.
There was a significant decline in the lactose content in the second and
third lactations, followed by an insignificant rise in the fourth. This was
accompanied by a rise in the chloride-lactose index in the first three lactations and an insignificant drop in the fourth.
The cellular content of the milk showed a considerable increase in every
There was a progressive deterioration in the quality of the milk of most
quarters during successive lactations, and several quarters which commenced
their lactation life by secreting normal milk in the first period subsequently
became abnormal. This gradual degeneration of the quarters is also revealed
in the increasing proportion of samples which gave abnormal reactions in
The cause of this deterioration is attributed to normal "wear and tear"
in the udder, and to a certain extent this is unavoidable. The process may,
however, be accelerated by bad management, for instance by prolonged
lactation, insufficiently long dry periods, incomplete milking, slow milking,
udder injuries and infection with non-pathogenic as well as with pathogenic
bacteria. The unnatural strain placed on the udder of the modern dairy
cow by requiring it to remain in an almost constant state of high functional
activity is also considered w predispose w rapid deterioration of the udder
(ii) Season. A fairly even distribution of the calving dates throughout
the year eliminated the marked influence which stage of lactation would have
exerted on season if the calvings were confined to a certain period of the year.
Contrary to the results obtained by European and American workers, it
was found that the quality of the milk secreted by the animals in this investigation
was at its lowest level during the winter months (June to August),
when the mean solids-not-fat percentage failed to attain the legal limit of
8.50. Fat and lactose showed a similar drop, and chloride and chloride-lactose
index increased correspondingly to reach their highest level in June.
The advent of spring and early summer was characterized by a marked
increase in the quality of the milk which reached its peak during the quarter
October to December. Solids-not-fat and lactose were then at their highest
level, and chloride and chloride-lactose index at their lowest.
The largest number of abnormal samples were obtained in winter.
No correlation between high environmental temperature and poor quality
milk could be established. On the contrary the best milk was secreted
during some of the hottest months of the year and the poorest in mid-winter.
It is suspected that malnutrition is mainly responsible for the poor
quality of the milk in winter, and the suggestion is made that the average
South African dairy cow has to exist on a subnormal plane of nutrition
during the greater part of the year.
(iii) Stage of Lactation. Solids-not-fat declined rapidly from 8.69 per
cent. in the first month of lactation to 8.40 per cent. in the third month. It
fluctuated round this low level for three months and then increased consistently
to reach its highest point (8.71 per cent.) in the final month. The
mean solids-not-fat percentage for the first and last months was significantly
higher than that for the second to seventh months. The mean percentage
was below the legal limit from the 88th w the 172nd day after parturition.
Fat also reached its lowest percentage in the same period though it never
fell below the legal standard.
The largest percentage (58.3) of samples that were deficient in solids-not-
fat occurred during the third month and the lowest (25.8) in the final
month of lactation.
The mean chloride content of the milk increased consistently with
advancing lactation from 0.118 per cent. in the first to 0.153 per cent. in
the tenth month. Lactose showed a corresponding decrease from 4.87 per
cent. to 4.58 per cent. Chloride-lactose index increased from 2.52 to 3.26
during the same period, and cells from 657,000 to 1,524,000 per ml.
The inverse relationship between solids-not-fat and chloride was not
maintained during the second half of the lactation period, since chloride
content of the milk increased simultaneously with the increase in solids-not-fat
while lactose dropped. This is attributed to the fact that the synthetic
cells of the gland gradually decline in activity, particularly in the pregnant
animal, and the alveolar epithelium becomes more permeable. This permits
unchanged blood constituents like serum albumin, serum globulin and salts
to pass into the milk unchanged. These constituents maintain solids-not-fat
at a high level despite the deficiency in lactose towards the end of lactation.
The practical significance of the effect of lactation stage on milk composition
lies in the fact that breeding programmes should be so planned that
calving dates are more or less evenly distributed throughout the year, so that
at any period the cows in the herd represent all stages of lactation. Particularly
should calving of a large proportion of the herd in late summer and
autumn be avoided, because in such cases the unfavourable effects of stage
of lactation and season will coincide and produce marked depression in the
quality of the winter milk.
(iv) Individuality. Three of the ten cows (7905, 7909 and 7921) persistently
secreted milk which was abnormal in all respects excepting fat,
and cells in the case of 7905. The low cell content of all four quarters of
this cow eliminates infection and abnormal bacterial activity as causal
factors in her case, and it is concluded that an inherent weakness of the cow
herself or of the udder was responsible for her poor quality milk. In the
other two cows secretory disturbance and unknown pathogens as well as hereditary weakness were probably jointly concerned.
High milk quality is not always associated with high milk yield, and
the final criterion in assessing the value of a cow for milk production and
breeding should be the amount of fat and fat-free solids produced rather
than the volume of milk.
(v) Quarter Differences. In both composition and yield the milk produced
by the two forequarters is very similar, as also is that secreted by the
two hindquarters. The two rear quarters, however, secrete milk of a higher
quality than the two forequarters, and the milk obtained from the anterior
half of the udder gave a higher percentage of abnormal react ions to the
various tests than that of the posterior half.
The mean chloride-lactose index for both forequarters was above the
standard prescribed for normal milk.
The poorest quality milk was secreted by the left forequarter and the
best by the left hind. There was no difference in the quality of the milk
from the right and left halves of the udder.
(vi) Conformation and Structure. Conformation of the udder was
judged by means of a score card on which points were awarded for symmetry,
evenness, teats, skin, yieldability, softness, free space and collapsibility.
A description based on visual and physical examination is given of each
The udders which showed the most pronounced inter-quarter differences
in the composition of milk are those characterized by marked asymmetry.
The poor quality of the milk secreted by underdeveloped quarters of certain
udders is attributed to anatomical defects of such quarters. It is suggested
that this may be due to a deficiency of glandular tissue and consequent
inability of such quarters to synthesize sufficient fat, lactose and casein for
the volume of milk produced. On the other hand there may be a reduction
in the storage capacity and elasticity of such quarters whereby intramammary
pressure is raised at an unduly fast rate between milkings. From
this the further deduction is made that the secretion of inferior quality milk
by udders that are well shaped but show evidence of excessive fibrous tissue
is due to inability of the gland to expand properly in order to accommodate
the volume of milk secreted without unduly raising intramammary pressure.
It is suggested that the persistent secretion of poor milk by such quarters is
due to defective histological structure which is probably of an hereditary
(vii) Non-specific mastitis. This condition in which there was definite
evidence of acute inflammation but not pathogenic micro-organisms, was
observed five times in two cows (7912 and 7913). Although clinically the
affected quarters all appeared to have recovered completely after the attacks,
examinations of their milk revealed that only one of the quarters was restored
to full normal functioning. In two quarters the deterioration was so marked
that the milk secreted subsequently was significantly lower in quality than
that yielded by the other quarters of the same cows.
All five cases of non-specific mastitis occurred in the second half of the
first lactation and in the first half of the second lactation. This and the
number of secretory disturbances which were observed at the same time
suggest that the udder undergoes its maximum development at that period,
and is, therefore, more susceptible to adverse influences at this stage than at
The cause of the non-specific mastitis was not determined. The possibility
of a virus being concerned cannot be disregarded, nor can the likelihood of one or more of the "normal" udder bacteria becoming pathogenic
In two of the five cases the disease was heralded by an increase in the
cell content of the milk a month or two before other symptoms appeared.
This indicates that the causal factor was probably active in the quarters
for some time before the natural resistance of the udder was overcome.
(viii) Micro-organisms. The bacterial counts for all quarters were
uniformly low during the first lactation, but when once micro-organisms
were established in the udder they increased progressively with successive
lactations. An abnormal increase in both bacteria and cells was observed in
those quarters that were affected with non-specific mastitis or showed evidence
of secretory disturbance.
High bacterial count was frequently, though not invariably, found to
be accompanied by a high cellular content of the milk.
Poor quality milk was not necessarily characterized by high bacterial
and cell content. Where the abnormalities in the milk were found to be due
to hereditary factors, bad conformation of the udder and seasonal effects, the
bacterial and cell counts were frequently very low.
Micro-organisms may be concerned in the production of non-specific
mastitis, for instance by (a) an abnormally big increase in the number of
''normal'' udder bacteria; (b) one or more of these ''normal'' bacteria
becoming pathogenic; (c) or after the initial resistance of the udder has been
broken down by a more potent agent they may assume the role of secondary
invaders and provide a constant source of mild irritation which is responsible
for the permanent deterioration in the quality of the milk produced by the
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