Cattle breeding: Sanitary practices and perceptions

23 Mar 2015

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Chapter 1: Introduction

Cattle are raised mainly for meat and dairy products in Mauritius. Cattle breeding are an essential component of modern agriculture. According to norms, safe food of animal origin must be free from pathogens and contaminants. There is a need to reduce the risk and if possible, eliminate it at the 'on the farm stage'. Cattle disease compromise animal welfare, reduce productivity and can also infect human beings. Sanitary conditions and perceptions in cattle breeding farms are very important to ensure a better health of the cattle and consumers of the products. The main reason for disease prevention and management for breeders is the gain in productivity. Sanitary conditions are very crucial in the disease prevention and management.

The health of the cow and its environment, improperly cleaned and sanitized milk handling equipment, and workers who milk cows and come in contact with milk due to a number of reasons could serve as sources of microbial contamination of milk (Yirsaw A.W,2004). Contaminants in the form of chemical residues are also of concern to public. Controlling the safety of food of animal origin at the primary production stage therefore involves all the measures (implemented at the farm or production unit level) necessary to ensure that these contaminants do not end up in animal products, or, if they do, that their levels do not exceed the maximum permissible levels, notably the maximum residue limits and microbiological criteria set by Codex Alimentarius Commission (OIE, 2008). Many factors influence milk composition and hence the nature and abundance of the microbial load. The conditions of raw milk production, in particular the hygienic practices of farmers (e.g washing of milking equipment and pre and post milking udder preparation), determine the contents in useful products and spoilage microorganisms (lafarge V et al, 2004).

Henceforth, this case study of dairy cattle breeders, help in meeting the following objectives of the project.

The main objective of the study is to assess sanitary practices and perceptions in dairy cattle breeding farms.

The specific objectives are:

  • To assess the sanitary milking practices in dairy cattle breeding farm through pre-milking teat disinfection, foremilk rejection and post-milking teat disinfection.
  • To investigate on sanitation practices in dairy cattle breeding farm through practices of cleaning and sanitizing milking equipment.
  • To assess level of awareness on mastitis and sanitary conditions at farmers working place.
  • To evaluate responses based on survey questionnaire on sanitary practices and perceptions on dairy cattle breeding farms.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Evolution of dairy cattle breeding

Mauritius is categorized as a net food importing country. The dairy production contributes negligibly to the country's economy with only 2% local milk production (AREU, 2007). According to Milliken (1986), there were about 22,000 milch cattle in 1914, representing a little more than 50% of the total cattle herd at this time (Heera MK, 2008). However the number of cattle head and farmers has been steadily declining over the years, leading to the current situation of only 7150 heads for 1758 breeders (CSO, 2008). Traditionally, the dairy industry in Mauritius was dominated by backyard producers, mostly women. But many of them abandoned farming in the 1980's to take higher paid jobs in the textile and clothing manufacturing industry (Ackbarally N, 2009). Simultaneously the sanitary problems (number of complaints due to lack of sanitation) and diseases, poor management also accounts for the decline.

Food crisis in relation to dairy cattle rearing

The food crisis which has hit with alarming speed and force the planet over the past recent years has showed how vulnerable net importing countries, like Mauritius, are against such situation. The milk (UHT and powdered) import bill has increased from Rs 975 M in 2001 to Rs 1.8 billion in 2007, representing a 85 per cent rise, while the import volume has remained unchanged (around 17,500 tonnes) (Anon, 2009a). Since the early 1980s milk consumption has grown more than 3 percent per year in developing countries and is projected to grow even faster through 2020. Meat consumption has been growing about 5 percent per year and is expected to grow 2.7% per year through 2020 compared to a low 0.6% per year in rich countries (Zessin K.H, 2002). Hence in response to the global rising food prices and shortages, the government is implementing measures to foster local production of milk and meat to mitigate, in short and medium term, the dependency of the country on imported food commodities. To stimulate dairy production, the government has introduced a battery of grants and loans to purchase equipment, import improved genetic breeds and acquire land for grazing (Ackbarally N, 2009).

Importance of Sanitation in dairy cattle breeding farm

'Sanitary condition' is defined as the state of sanitation whereby sanitation is the formulation and application of measures designed to protect public health (wikipedia). The cattle breeding are often viewed as a lucrative opportunity. There are nevertheless a series of complications which may arise during such an event if proper hygiene and sanitation is not maintained. When it comes to sanitation at farm, it is closely linked with "Food safety" which is now universally recognized as a public health priority. There are a series of precaution that can be taken by farmers, right at the first stage of the food chain, to optimise the food safety control of products of animal origin (OIE, 2006). This inevitably means controlling the health status of the animals from which food products are derived.

World organization for animal health (OIE)

In this age of globalisation, ensuring healthy, hazard-free food is one of the key issues for international organisations working in this field. To this end, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) work closely together, each in its area of competence (OIE, 2008). Since 2002, the OIE has had responsibility for "animal production food safety". The renewed importance conferred by the Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS Agreement) to the OIE and to WHO/FAO has spurred the interest of countries around the globe (Zessin K.H, 2002).

Preliminary Environmental report

Cattle rearing do have certain direct and indirect impacts on the environment which require special attention while setting up a farm. Those impacts are mostly associated with solid and liquid waste originating from the farm such as; wastewater from cleaning activities, urine, and manure. Other problems such odour nuisance and flies nuisance are not to be omitted. In case the farm is near residential areas, consultation with neighbours and all other bodies who are likely to be affected by the farm is compulsory. According to Environmental Protection Act 2002, livestock rearing on a scale of up to 20 heads require a Preliminary Environmental Report in which all the environmental and socio-economic parameters are addressed and their impacts are identified and taken into account in the project design (Anon, 2009b).

Dairy cattle breeding

There are mainly three types of farms in Mauritius. These are:

Small Scale farms

Locally cattle breeding are more of a family business. Cattle rearing are carried out in a traditional manner in the backyard as a part time activity. The small cattle breeders also known as cowkeepers mostly live in the country side and they own on average two to three lactating cows that are kept in enclosed shed(RATES, 2004). The level of inputs and management vary greatly among the farmers and they are generally low because of limited facilities and lack of financial resources.

Medium Scale farms

Medium scale farm is quite similar to small scale farm. However they have slightly better management practices in terms of inputs (e.g. better feeding system) and modern techniques are applied e.g. use of milking machine ( Ackbarally N, 2009).

Large Scale farms

Presently there are two private farms namely Golden Cream Dairy farm ltd at Salazie and SKC Surat Co Ltd at Rose-Belle who are operating at large scale for commercial milk production. Another type of large scale farms which have almost ceased to exist is the Government Dairy farm. In the past there were three Government dairy farms that would keep around 200 head of cattle. Richelieu Livestock Breeding Station (RLPU) has been converted into a quarantine station and recently the Palmar Livestock Breeding Station has been closed. Presently there exists only the Curepipe livestock Research station where other species of livestock are also reared with the main objective to carry out research and development activities in livestock production and training for the benefit of farmers.

Guiding objective for good dairy farming practice

The guiding objective for good dairy farming practice is that milk should be produce on-farm from healthy animals under generally accepted conditions. This is achieved by applying good agricultural practice in the five areas.

Health Management

Cows that produce milk need to be healthy and an effective health care programme should be in place. Animal health care includes different veterinary treatments given to the animals for early detection of diseases, prevention of disease spread among healthy animals, prevention of transmission of zoonoses and to ensure traceability (FAO/IDF, 2004). It is important to have strict control of any animal introductions to prevent the movement of the infectious diseases onto the farm. Sick animals are liable to be a major source of disease to healthy animals and hence need to be segregated to reduce the chances of diseases spreading. In case where animals are imported or brought from other local farms, they need to be kept in isolation from the existing herd for about 30 days. This is done again to prevent contamination of existing herds by parasites and pathogens (AREU, 2004). Other activities such as vaccination and deworming schedules, hoof management and routine health assessment form part of a good Health Management.

Guidelines to be followed for effective housing of cows

Dairy housing systems have a substantial impact on the overall health and longevity of dairy cattle (Barberg A.E et al, 2007). In addition to keeping animals healthy, a critical part of husbandry is also to make sure they are kept visibly clean. It is of particular importance, to reduce the possibility of contamination of the food, for milking animals and for animals destined for slaughter not to have dirty outer coats. A major influence on the cleanliness of the animals is the type of housing, the material used as bedding and the underfoot conditions if the animals are kept outside (A M Johnston, 2000). Where cows are kept indoors it is important that suitable and adequate buildings be provided if the cows are to be fully productive. Good dairy farm buildings are extremely important in considering any of the hygienic aspects of milk handling (WHO, 1962). The design of the housing system is also important so that there is adequate space and facilities to optimize feeding, collection of manure, cleaning, washing, artificial insemination.

The housing system can be either loose or tied system with adequate space and facilities to optimize feeding, collection of manure, cleaning, washing, artificial insemination and milking (AREU, 2007).


The general layout of a dairy farm should be according to the number and category of animals to be housed. The cowhouse is a specialized building which should be carefully designed and constructed so as to provide comfortable and healthy housing for the cows and at the same time to enable them to be milked in clean conditions. Housing must be managed hygienically to avoid soiling of animal. A standing of 1.5m long has been found most suitable to enable cows to lie clean, but with the smaller breeds of cow 1.4m or less may be sufficient (WHO, 1962). Moreover it should be free of obstruction and hazards; dead ends, and steep and slippery pathways should be avoided. It should be resistant to adverse weather conditions and consequences thereof especially cyclones, unseasonal change causing cold or heat stress (FAO/IDF, 2004). The windows should be fitted with hinged shutters to be used in case of cyclonic conditions.


The floor should be non-slippery to minimize slipping and bruising due to rough uneven floors. Unsuitable floors may inhibit mounting or lead to injuries during mating. The floor should be preferably sloping 10 cm above surrounding ground to enable drainage of urine in a canal leading to a suitable point of disposal as required by the Sanitary Authority (AREU, 2007).


Plastering of the wall to a height of at least 1.5m is recommended to prevent accumulation of dirt, disease germs and to facilitate cleaning (WHO, 1962). Cowshed should be provided with at least two doors, one opening on the feeding passage and the other one on the manure cum milking passage.

Ventilation and lighting

The regular renewal of the air in a cowshed is essential for the maintenance of the health of the cows and prevention of contamination of milk (WHO, 1962). The cowshed should have sufficient openings to allow natural ventilation and adequate sunlight. This will enable proper supply of fresh air to remove humidity, allow heat dissipation and prevent build-up of gases such as carbon dioxide, ammonia or slurry gases (FAO/IDF, 2004). Direct sunlight helps to keep the shed dry and would act as a germ killer.

Water Supply

Water supply plays an imminent role in maintaining a proper sanitary balance in breeding farms. Besides being used for drinking purpose, efficient water supply helps in cleaning and other activities leading to part of proper sanitation. The cow needs a lot of water (up to 50L daily) to be able to produce saliva for rumination and milk production. It is best to allow the animal continuous access to ample fresh and clean water (AREU, 2004). Water is an obvious potential source of pathogens because it can contain nutrients from feed or manure and be contaminated with pathogens, thereby serving as a vehicle to contaminate or infect animals on consumption (CAST, 2004). E. coli 0157:H7 is found commonly in water troughs on farms and feedlots and persists in these environments for as long as four months (Lejeune J.T et al, 2001). Water supplies should be clear and free of excrement (FAO/IDF, 2004).

Feed Management

For healthy living and proper growth, reproduction and milk production, dairy cattle require a daily balanced diet. The feed contains nutrient namely carbohydrates, fat, proteins, minerals (e.g. calcium, phosphorus) and vitamins (A, D, E, K). Moreover, foodstuffs which are fed to animals must be free from both pathogens and undesirable residues. Since Mauritius is mainly based on a zero-grazing system, breeders have to make provision for forage based on a cut-and-carry fodder system. The source of forages varies among breeders; they are collected from Sugar Cane Estates or along roadsides, fallow lands, riverbanks, and state lands or vegetable fields (Heera M.K, 2008). Withholding periods should be applied to forage crops if they have been treated with agricultural chemical, prior to use as feed.

Control storage conditions of feed

The different control measures in relation to feedstuffs and its storage are as follows:

  • Feeds intended for different species should be separated. No animal material should be included in dairy cattle feed rations.
  • Appropriate storage conditions should be ensured to avoid feed contamination. It should be ensured that animals are not able to come into contact with contaminants in areas where these feed products are stored and mixed.
  • Hay and dry feeds should be protected from a moist environment, silage and other fermented crops should be kept under hermetically sealed conditions(AREU,2004)
  • Moldy feed should be rejected (FAO/IDF, 2004); feeding of any moldy stock feed to milking cows should be avoided. Particular care should be taken with wheat bran, silage, hay, bagasse, cotton seed cake as these contain poisonous fungal toxins that can be transferred to milk.
  • Fungal mycotoxins may also be present in pasture. In New Zealand, the ingestion of saprophytic fungus containing the toxin, sporidesmin, causes the disease facial eczema with impaired liver function, photosensitivity, decreased milk production and sometimes death (Ferraud C, 1995). Although the disease is uncommon in other temperate countries, it is important to realize that increased forage use carries the risk of an increased incidence of pasture borne mycotoxicoses.


Milk plays an important role in our daily diet. Cows' milk contains a wide array of key nutrients that help support human health. It is an excellent source of protein, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Apart from being a nutritional food, milk has a high water activity, moderate pH of 6.4 to 6.6 and ample supply of nutrients, making for an excellent medium for microbial growth. There is wide spectrum of bacteria present in nature which can contaminate milk rendering it unsafe for human consumption or unfit for further processing.

Human pathogens known or likely to contaminate raw milk

Microorganisms are widely present in animals and in their environment. Disease in animals is inevitable on farms, no matter how good the husbandry (Johnston, 2000). The diseases that form the greatest threat to animals are caused by microorganisms that invade the body. Diseases could be infectious (of viral or bacterial origin), non-infectious (caused by parasites) or metabolic (caused by imbalanced diet). Specific infectious diseases are generally restricted to the large farms and metabolic diseases are more commonly seen in cattle belonging to small breeders (Sibartie D, 2001). Healthy dairy cattle are considered a reservoir for several of the most important food borne human disease pathogens (Tauxe, 1997). Nontyphoidal Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter jejuni are considered important treats to food safety because of the enormous number of illness they cause. Cattle have been shown to carry Salmonella at rates as high as 64% (CAST, 2004). Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli 0157:H7 are priority pathogens because of the severity of symptoms associated with infection and because of the number of deaths that occur in infected people. All of these pathogens are shed in cattle feces and can contaminate dairy farm premises including unpasteurised bulk tank milk (Ruegg P.L, 2003).

Milk borne diseases

Human-health threats from livestock come in two basic forms: (i) zoonotic diseases, and (ii) food-borne illnesses. Zoonotic diseases are those that arise in animals but can be transmitted to humans. Potentially pandemic viruses, such as influenza, are the most newsworthy, but many others exist, including rabies, brucellosis and anthrax (FAO 2009).

A joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee (1970) on milk hygiene classified milk-borne diseases:

infections of animals that can be transmitted to man:

Primary importance: Tuberculosis, Brucellosis, Streptoccocal infections, ;Staphyloccocal enterotoxin poisoning, Salmonellosis, Q fever.

Lesser importance; cowpox, Foot and mouth disease, Anthrax, Leptospirosis and Tick-borne encephalitis

infections primary to man that can be transmitted through milk:

Typhoid and paratyphoid fevers, Shigellosis, Cholera, Enteropathogenic Escherchia coli, Non-diarrhoeal diseases, Streptococcal infections, Staphylococcal food poisoning, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, Enteroviruses and Viral hepatitis (Kamalam S, 2005)

Outbreaks associated to milk

Warnings to consumers about the risks of drinking raw milk have been stepped up over recent years because health professionals are trying to protect health and have seen a resurgence in milkborne diseases that had dropped dramatically with pasteurization, as raw milk has become trendy and its marketing has increased (Szwarc S, 2009).


Worldwide, mastitis is the most common disease in dairy cattle (Tan et al, 2009). Mastitis is defined as an infection of the udder, caused by bacteria entering the quarter through the teat end. According to the US national mastitis council(1996); mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland in response to injury for the purpose of destroying and neutralizing the infectious agents and to prepare the way for healing and return to normal function ( Fadlelmoula A.A, 2007). This results in physical, chemical and microbial changes in the milk. It can be caused by a variety of bacteria or even fungi, the most common in Mauritius being Staphylococcus epidermidis (Sibartie D, 2001).

Mastitis in dairy cattle represents a disease problem which is difficult to prevent or control effectively, since so many different workers have pointed out special instances which indicate that the susceptibility to mastitis manifested by related animals might have genetic basis: various studies have given heritability estimates for mastitis resistance ranging from 0.05 to 0.38 (Warwick E J et al, 1979).

Principles of mastitis control

Worldwide, farmers have achieved tremendous success in reducing the incidence of contagious mastitis by adopting five basic principles of mastitis control (Ruegg P.L, 2003):

  • Postmilking teat disinfection
  • Universal dry cow antibiotic therapy
  • Appropriate treatment of clinical cases
  • Culling of chronically infected cows
  • Regular milking machine maintenance

Sources of contamination of raw milk

There are several principal sources of contamination of milk. From the time the milk leaves the udder, until it is dispersed into containers, everything with which it comes into contact is a potential source of more microorganisms.

Within the udder

Healthy Udder

For many years, it was believed that milk drawn directly from the udder of a healthy cow was a sterile fluid, that is, it contained no living microorganisms (Yirsaw A.W, 2004). In healthy cows, many microorganisms resides in the teat cistern, teat canal and teat apex. Natural flora within the udder of healthy animals is not considered to contribute significantly to the total numbers of microorganisms in the bulk milk, nor the potential increase in bacterial numbers during refrigerated storage (Murphy S.C et al, 2000). The first few streams of milk from each teat should be collected, separated, discarded. This flushes out the organisms that entered the teat through the teat opening (FSA, 2006).

Unhealthy Udder

In cows having mastitis, the infected udders can shed lots of microorganisms into the milk. Selim and Culor (1997) found that Streptococci and coliforms are the most dominant isolated bacteria from milk followed by Staphylococcus spp (Yagoub S.O et al, 2005 ; Murphy S.C et al, 2000).

Exterior of the udder

Usually the microorganisms from the skin of the animals and the microorganisms from the environment where the cow is kept and milked cause contamination to the exterior of the udder. Common organisms associated with the bedding materials are staphylococci, streptococci, coliforms, spore formers, and other gram-negative organisms (Murphy et al, 2000; Elmoslemany A.M, 2009).

Surface of milk handling and storage equipment

The most important factor affecting the total bulk milk bacteria count is the cleanliness of the milking system. Utensils and equipment are known to be the greatest sources of contaminants. They may account for as much as 100,000 to billion organisms per milliliter (Murphy S.C et al, 2000). Pails, strainers, milking machines, cans, pipes bottles, and other equipment used for the handling of milk are sometimes not properly washed and sanitized. Organisms survive in the cracks, corners, crevices, dents, scratches and other irregularities of the utensils. Such neglect affords ideal conditions for the growth of microorganisms before the utensils are being used again. Refrigeration is also essential to prevent or slow the growth of bacteria in raw milk.

Sanitary practices

The consumers are nowadays well conscious about food hygiene and they demand high standards of milk quality. Hence it is fundamental that breeders respect the quality criteria of their product to satisfy the demand and to remain in competition. Milking performed under strict hygienic conditions, with strict attention to sanitary practices, will reduce the entry of microorganisms into the milk. Naturally the fewer the organisms that get into the milk, the fewer have a chance to grow.

Personal hygiene of milk handler

At all stages hygiene is necessary to prevent contamination of milk. This starts from the person first handling the milk that is the milker and all throughout its handling. It is the responsibility of the milker to follow strict level of personal hygiene to prevent direct contamination of the milk.

Personal hygiene of milk handler includes the following (CAC, 2004):

  • The milker should be in good health; those with an open wound or suffering from any skin disease or any other contagious disease should not come in contact with the milk. Any injury on hands or forearms must be covered with a water-resistant bandage.
  • He should possess a valid food handler certificate issued by Sanitary Authority
  • Effective washing of hands and arms with proper means; adequate clean water, soap, nail brush, and thereafter drying hands and arms with a clean cloth or disposable paper towel.
  • He should properly trim nails and must not wear ring or any other jewelry so as not to injure the udder or teats.
  • Neat appearance; wearing clean clothes, hair cap to cover hair.
  • Smoking is not permitted in areas for milking, and milk storage (FSA, 2006).

Pre-milking practices

A good milking technique is essential for the production of safe raw milk. Cleaning of teats before milking is important to remove both visible soiling (e.g. feces, bedding, mud, residual post milking disinfectant) and bacteria which could contaminate the milk. Washing with water gives the cleanest udder, teat and flank. The water should be between 200C to 400C. Long hairs from the flank and udder should be removed regularly. The wet udder should be dried with paper towel which should be used only once to prevent the spread of bacteria and other pathogens to other cows. If paper towels are not available, sterilized cloth can be used but should be replaced regularly. Thorough washing and drying may be followed by treating with disinfectant (e.g. sodium hypochlorite solution or Dipal), an approved pre-dip solution which must be effectively removed before hand milking or cluster attachment. The use of predipping using iodine has demonstrated to reduce standard plate count and coliform counts in raw milk by five- and six-fold respectively as compared to other methods of premilking udder preparation (Galton et al, 1986). The overall reduction of microbial loads in raw milk through the use of predipping should result in reduced numbers of zoonotic pathogens. Predipping has been shown to reduce the risk of listeria monocytogenes in milk filters by almost four-fold (Ruegg, 2003).

Foremilk rejection

Before the real milking can start each quarter should be inspected for physical/chemical/organoleptic abnormalities by checking the foremilk. The first milk should be spread on a dark surface, a foremilk cup or a dark tile. Abnormal milk shows discoloration, flakes, shreds, clots, blood spots and/or wateriness (Bonnier et al, 2004). If the milk shows such warning signs then the milk should be kept aside because of the risks to humans. The examination of milk must also be done before attaching milking units. Fore-milking assists early detection of mastitis removes potentially contaminated milk from the teat canal and stimulates milk let down. Cows with infected udder (mastitis) and those under treatment with antibiotics should be milked last and the contaminated milk disposed of properly (FSA, 2006).

Post-milking practices

After fore-milking the milker will be aware if milk quality is satisfactory or not. If milk is free from warning signs, milking of the healthy udder can carried out for human consumption. To milk the cow clean, dry hand must be used and the whole hand should be used instead of only thumb and forefinger because the latter grip is considered bad for udder health and flow rate (Bonnier et al, 2004).

Equipment used during milking

As soon as milk comes out from the udder it gets into contact with the surface of the recipient vessel for example bucket/pail or aluminium can. Surfaces are usually metal, stainless steel, tinned steel or plastic and they should all be kept in good hygienic conditions. Nowadays Stainless Steel is used as the material of construction for Dairy and Food processing equipments world over to achieve the most exact requirements for easy maintenance, sanitation, product preservation, corrosion resistance and to avoid health hazardous effects of aluminium and plastic ( The design of milking equipment, where used, and cans, should ensure there are no crevices or recesses that can interfere with proper cleaning (CAC, 2004).

Chapter 3: Methodology

Data collection

Data collection was done by carrying out a questionnaire based survey. The questionnaire assessed the various sanitary practices and perceptions on the dairy farms. Desk study of recent reports on cattle breeding sector was also conducted to get relevant information on the topic. Moreover key informants like the Agricultural Research Extension Unit situated at St Pierre and the Veterinary Service Division at Reduit were approached. An appointment was fixed through contacts by email and phone call. After interviewing the concerned party, an idea of the current situation as concerned the cattle breeding of the livestock sector was obtained. The names, contact numbers and addresses of the dairy cattle breeders around the island were obtained. Statistical data was obtained from the government website of central statistic division.

Questionnaire design

The study was based on questionnaire survey among the dairy cattle breeders. While designing the questionnaire, the data collected was considered. The survey covered both management practices used on the farm and it was also composed of questions regarding beliefs and opinions about selected dairy breeding farm issues. The questionnaire consisted of different parts namely the sanitary condition of the cowshed, Pre-milking practices, post milking practices, and animal health. The types of questions used were mainly close ended type and only a few open ended.

Sample size

The sampling population was the dairy cattle breeders in Mauritius. It is obvious that the whole population cannot be surveyed, thus a total of 26 breeders were randomly selected using random numbers from a sampling frame that included addresses of all dairy cattle breeders registered by AREU. The herds were stratified into three categories based on the number of animals: small scale farm (= 5 lactating cows), medium scale f arm (6 to 25 lactating cow) and large scale farm (> 25 lactating cow). The questionnaires were filled personally by me by visiting all the sites and the questions were translated in creole to the breeders for better response.

Chapter 4 : Results and Analysis

General information of the farms surveyed

There were more responders from medium scale than from the large scale farm. The percentages of responders for small, medium and large scale breeding farm were 38.5%, 50% and 11.5% respectively.

Source of cow

16 % of the responders reported that they imported their animals. The source of animals in the farms could be related with the type of farm. The medium and large scale farms only imported the cow compared to zero percent from small scale breeding.

The frequency of milking

All the responders milk the cows twice per day with the exception of only one Medium scale farm where the cow was milked only once.

Response for milking completely the udder

The majority of responders (64%) reported that they milk the cows completely compared to 35% who did not milk the cows completely. However those who did not milk the cows completely were mostly from the small scale farm.

Sanitary condition of cowshed

Housing layout

Most of the responders reported that the cowshed was made up of concrete (35%) and blocks (32%) and the third highest used material was iron sheets with 22% responders.

Floor of cowshed

Only 2% of the responders had cowshed with plastered wall 1m above floor. 45% of responders had cowshed with rough concrete floor. This can be related with question 18(iii), question on how the cowshed was being cleaned. The majority of responders reported that they clean the floor only by replacing the bedding with clean straw. Moreover a majority of 45 % reported that the cowshed had rough concrete floor.

Only 7 % of the responders accounted for sloppy floor with drain to enable drainage of urine in a canal while 5 % of responders reported for floor impervious to water and urine.

Natural Ventilation

All responders rely on natural ventilation to remove heat and humidity from the animals' environment. The majority of responders did not have the fly-proof openings as shown in figure 4.6. The only way for them to control flies were the use of insecticides namely Barricade. Whatever be the means of control, all responders reported that flies were always present in all three types of farms.

Availability of water

73 % of responders reported that the water has to be changed from time to time and the 81 % responders reported that the water source was not shared with other cattle.

The large herd is more at risk in case of trough water contamination, followed by the medium scale farm with a ratio of 2:3 and 1:6 respectively. This may be due to the fact that for a larger herd it is more difficult to change water for each individual animal.

Pre-milking practices

Cleaning of cowshed floor before milking

All responders affirm that the milking place was cleaned either by scraping the soiled bedding material and replacing them by fresh bedding material or by mechanical cleaning (washing with water) which was mainly done by large herd breeders.

Pre-milking disinfection of udder and teats.

All responders report that the udder was cleaned before milking. However not all responders were practicing teats disinfection followed by cleaning. 47% of responders were using cold water followed by 21 % responders who were using chlorinated water for teat disinfection. In this survey 39 % of respondents are still not practicing udder and teats disinfection.

Foremilk rejection

The majority of responders who does not reject foremilk are from the small and medium herd. The total percentage of responders who do not reject foremilk was 73%.

Post milking practices

Type of container used for milk collection

The majority using milking machine was from large scale and medium scale farms. 10 out of 13 responders from the medium herd and 100 % from the large herd use milking machine. The majority of small herd use bucket for milk collection (9 out of 10).

Cleaning of utensils

The results of this study showed that only the small breeders used detergent and hot water for cleaning milk equipment without any disinfectant (sanitizer) while the majority of the medium scale uses cold water, 69% with disinfectant and the remaining 31% without disinfectant. . In contrary most of the small scale dairy cow owners 90% cleaned milk equipment without disinfectant after each usage.

Post-milking disinfection

The majority of responders do not practice post milking teats disinfection. According to the study 100 % of small scale breeders do not disinfect the cow teats after milking. Among the responders from medium scale and large scale farms only 5 out of 13 and 2 out of 3, respectively reports for teats disinfection after milking.

Animal health

Mastitis awareness

From the study, only 7 responders out of 26 were unaware of the mastitis disease. The level of unawareness is higher in small scale dairy farm as compared to medium scale farm with a ratio of 5:5 and 2:11 for small and medium scale farms respectively. According to the study the level of awareness is 100% in the large scale farm. 50% of the small herds were unaware of the udder disease.

Diseased Animal

Most of the responders irrespective of its farm scale reported that they do not separate the sick animals from the healthy one. 9 out of 10 small breeders, 11 out of 13 medium herd owners and 2 out of 3 large herd owners reported for not separating the diseased/injured animal from the healthy one.

Veterinary service

From the study it can be seen that for both medium and large scale farm, the number of responders reporting that their animals are examined for regular check up was higher than those saying their animals were not examined regularly. Most of the small breeders (6 out of 10) reported that their animals are not examined routinely by veterinary officer instead they are being examined only if they are sick.

Separation of the calves from the older animals

All the small breeders are of the opinion that the calves need not be separated with the older animals. However this is not the case for large and medium scale farms. 9 out of 13 medium herds think that separation of the calves from the older animals is important while 100% of large scale in the study is of the same opinion.

Milk of animals under antimicrobial treatment

The practice of not milking the cows during treatment was related to the responder's opinion on consumption of milk of animals under antibiotic treatment. There is a considerable amount of responders that do not stop milking after giving vitamins or drugs to cows and who is of the opinion that milk of animal under antibiotic treatment can be consumed. This is not a hygienic practice because milk of animals under antimicrobial treatment is not safe for consumption.

Perception of Sanitary conditions among breeders

Most of responders were either partly or fully aware of the sanitary conditions to be maintained at their working place. However a majority 16 out of 26 responders had a full notion on sanitary conditions.

Waste management

From the survey it was seen in majority of farms manure was placed in pile in open air. The large scale farm were making compost out of the dung and soiled bedding material, which were sold to farmers residing near the village. However in most cases disposal of manure poses a difficult problem and tends to cause flies and bad odours. No pest control

Chapter 5: Discussion

Sanitation and sanitary practices are of utmost importance in breeding farms. Lack of proper sanitary conditions may lead to various mishaps such as proliferation of certain infections such as anthrax etc (Kaplan M.M, 1962). Various studies have reported various threats to health that has been posed following unhygienic practices in farms. Such a study was however lacking in Mauritius. Hence the current study attempted to assess sanitary practices and perceptions in farms.

According to the survey it was observed that small scale breeders leave the calves feed on their own from the cow. By this practice the udder was not milked completely. According to regulations for a sound health of calves, cow's udder need to be washed and dried before nursing or milking to prevent bacterial contamination (AREU, 2007).

Construction materials greatly influence sanitation and hygienic conditions. The construction materials used have to be well selected. According to the survey 33% still used iron sheet, metal and wooden structures, which is against the regulation of AREU. This can be a source of unhygienic practices. Such structures normally harbor bacteria and can cause their proliferation, which may affect the quality of milk being produced. Thus, the sanitary condition as regards to health of animals is not followed completely.

Although cowsheds were having concrete wall, the fact it was not plastered gives indication that the cowshed was not maintained properly because concrete wall that are not plastered accumulates dirt and disease germs. Cleaning cowshed by scraping the soiled bedding material and replacing them by fresh bedding material does not prevent excess dung, slurry from accumulating due to improper urine drainage. Hence just scraping soiled bedding material will by no means remove any dirt clustering on the wall.

Dairy cattle housing has a large impact on the health of feet and legs of the dairy cows. Housing systems including concrete flooring, uncomfortable freestalls, or both increased the incidence of lameness and hock lesions (Barberg A.E, 2007). $5 % respondents reported for rough concrete floor. The concrete surface must be smooth so that the animal's hoofs are not damaged by rough edges or abrasions, and it must have grooves to prevent cows from slipping and losing their footing. Moreover, the low response for sloppy floor with drain gives an indication that the floor was not properly designed and provision for liquid waste (urine and washing water) outlet was not made. This can give rise to unsanitary conditions in the cowshed if not properly maintained daily.

According to the study conducted, there was observation of flies in the cowsheds and their presence in itself proves to be a major health hazard to the animals. The only biting fly of common occurrence in Mauritius is Stomoxys nigra. Proper means of fly control was of concern to the responders but the solution was far to be obtained. They complain that use of insecticide also was not of 100% efficiency. There were no other means of pest control on farms investigated. A lack of all such practices explains that the animals are not being housed in the proper manner and hence they may have a direct repercussion on the quality of milk being produced.

Share water source with other animals, is a risky factor, in the event that one of the animals is sick or even suffering from certain disease etc. This may be the case with animals imported. Moreover the frequency of changing water is another important aspect. According to norms, water through need to be cleaned regularly and animals has to avoid using the same through (FAO/IDF, 2004; Boyles S). However in the current study, such practice was not observed. This may be viewed as a demarcation from the established norm and also a source of contamination to the animals, and hence to the population in general.

One of the major guidelines is to ensure appropriate udder preparation for milking (AREU, 2007). Many farms that are currently using hygienic milking practices and the effective use of predipping with iodine and forestripping (foremilk rejection) have been shown to enhance milk safety (Ruegg P.L, 2003). According to this survey 39% of respondents are not practicing teats disinfection prior to milking and a majority of 73 % did not reject foremilk. Such neglects do not ensure safe and quality milk production and consumption of milk produced under such circumstances without being properly pasteurised can lead to serious health problems.

Cleanliness of equipment is important to prevent milk contamination (Yirsaw A.W,2004). From the survey it was observed that 90% of small breeders were not using disinfectant while washing utensils and the type of container used for collection of milk was either a bucket/pail or milking machine. In both cases the milk was emptied intermittently into a storage can of bigger volume after the collecting container was nearly filled. The fact that more than one container was used increases the risk of milk contamination by increasing the surface area to which milk is being exposed especially if the containers are not cleaned with disinfectant. Hence milking practice in small breeding farm was very poor and had a higher probability of contamination.

Milk from mastitis cow is highly colonized by bacteria and according to guidelines it should be rejected and disposed away from healthy animals to prevent contamination (AREU, 2007). The study reveals that small breeders were unaware of mastitis and were more likely to milk their cow in case of unhealthy udder. Such practice is not safe since it increases the risk of bulk milk contamination and its consumption poses a serious problem for human health.

Established guidelines show that disease animals should be separated from the healthy one. This is an important biosecurity measure in case of infectious disease and also to identify the disease animal at milking time so that the infected animal is milked separately. However the results of the survey indicate that 85% respondents were not separating the sick animals from the healthy one. In case of contagious mastitis which is spread through contact with infected cattle rather than from the environment, such practice will cause infection in the whole herd.

"Precaution is better than cure", this proverb applies well on farm. According to guidelines it is crucial to have a health care program on farm. It is necessary to regularly check animals for signs of disease in order to prevent spread of disease among animals. The study indicates that in the small scale farms there are no proper animal health care because the animals are less likely to be visited regularly by veterinarians. In animal production it is too late to undertake actions first when clinical signs of disease have developed. Therefore, health control scheme should be established and control measures used that continuously aim at disease prevention in order to avoid health problems (Zessin K.H, 2002).

Waste management in farm is an important point to be considered. At present, the cow dung is left inside the shed, piled up on the ground and left to rot, attracting flies, cockroaches and other vermin and fouling the floor. In some cases the cow dung is washed out and left dry in the backyard creating a most unhealthy situation (GEF, 2006). Such practice on farms is a real nuisance and can be injurious to public health.

The isolation of calves and bred heifers from contact with mature animals is an important management practice that helps reduce the spread of infectious disease among age groups ( Ruegg P.L, 2006). The study show that the medium and large scale breeders do not perceive the importance of separating calves from older animals. Almost all responders reported that the present number of animals was same as the number of animals that the cow shed can accommodate. There were no separate maternity pens or calf pens in the small scale breeding farm and the calves were kept together with the older animals. This also implies that the calves are exposed to manure from adult cattle. Hence this can cause infections with Mycobacterium paratuberculosis in calves, leading to incurable diarrhea and decrease in weight.

Chapter 6: Recommendations

  1. Veterinary services play a key role in ensuring that animals are kept under hygienic conditions and in early detection, surveillance and treatment of animal diseases, including conditions of public health significance. This can be achieved through awareness campaign, educational programs and training. Veterinary services may also provide livestock producers with information, advice and training on how to avoid, eliminate or control food safety hazards, example drug and pesticide residues, mycotoxins, environmental contaminants, in primary production, including through animal feed. Producers' organizations, particularly those with veterinary advisors, can provide awareness and training as they are in regular contact with farmers and understand their priorities.
  2. Quality production can be achieved only if farmers are compelled to do so. In order to be competitive and to gain market value for products, it is obvious that farmers need to pay special attention and apply hygienic practices to produce safe and quality products. This can be achieved through promulgation of laws that contribute on an effective food regulatory authority and that enables it to issue and enforce standards and other regulatory requirements for food and agricultural products
  3. Financial aids will surely encourage smallholders to buy equipments and to better construct the cowshed so that they can provide the necessary conditions, amenities and facilities in the farm. Therefore enabling the breeders to practice farming in a better environment and with better facilities.
  4. However, to avoid the failure of these promoting measures, a simultaneous step would be to implement a system of milk payment linked to its hygienic quality. To be sustainable, this system should be fair and extended to all milks delivered by farmers.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

This study confirms that sanitary conditions in small breeding farm are poor and they do not benefit fully from the veterinary services. Data clearly indicate that milk quality with regards to milking practices, under current conditions in dairy cattle breeding farms, can be linked to the type of breeding farm, and it is affected by milking practices. All together, these results show that urgent measures are needed to ensure safe milk at farm level, by the promotion of good hygiene practices. These would preferably focus on efficient cleaning of vessels, hands, udder and the whole building facilities with appropriate detergents and water. These measures should be applied massively because this criterion remains very poor in the majority of dairy breeding farms.

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