A series of surveys commissioned by Elanco Animal Health found that 98% of UK dairy vets and 72% of producers rank mastitis as the leading herd health concern for dairy producers, with almost three-quarters of farmers correctly identifying immune suppression as a core cause of the disease.
That means that dairy farmers focus more on the consequences of immune suppression around calving, rather than addressing the leading causes of problematic transition diseases, the survey revealed.
But, addressing immune suppression is not high on the list of priorities for farmers, with immune suppression barely making the top 10 list of their most important herd health concerns.
What’s it all about? At calving, all cows undergo a dip in immunity, with the function of essential immune cells neutrophils reducing by up to 40%, leaving herds vulnerable to transition diseases such as mastitis, metritis and retained placenta.
While an overwhelming 94% of farmers recognise the importance of successfully managing the period around calving for herd health, the survey results reveal that they do not always associate key transition diseases with the correct cause.
For example, while mastitis is directly related to immune suppression, ketosis, milk fever and displaced abomasum are not. 
However, the latter illnesses were consistently cited among survey respondents as leading consequences of compromised immunity.
Alistair Macrae, vet and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, is adamant that a shift in approach is needed: “Most dairy producers are aware that their cows are more vulnerable around calving but don’t focus on why this is the case. 
“At the moment, we spend far too much time fixing ‘broken cows’ rather than focusing on prevention.
“There is a real opportunity for farmers to address immune suppression as a key cause of their most problematic dairy healthcare issues.”