Typical herd of Holstein x Zebu crosses or Gir (Girolando) grazing in the Uberlandia region of Brazil.
(Photo by Steve Nickerson, PhD)

U.S. economists have predicted that by 2002, based on current trends in milk consumption, there will be an 87% increase in the global consumption of dairy products. Steve Nickerson, PhD, University of Georiga, says Argentina and Brazil could be positioned to expand their production of milk because of their agricultural and livestock resources, and the potential growth in these two areas.

In a recent trip to South America, Nickerson says a current problem is mastitis in dairy cattle and the availability of teat dip products to those countries. Nickerson says the Argentine dairy industry is relatively advanced, and the milk purchasing companies are focused on obtaining high quality milk with 1) low somatic cell counts (SCC) and 2) low bacteria counts in the bulk tank of individual farms. As a result, the dairy producers realize the importance of mastitis control and milking hygiene in order to comply with the standards imposed by the milk cooperatives. Post-milking teat dipping is generally practiced by most dairymen, and pre-dipping is starting to be followed by the innovative dairymen.

However, in the past several years, there has been a shift from grazing-type dairy farms to the more intensive systems in which the milking herd is housed on concrete and free-stalls between milkings. This situation leads to the crowding of animals and the concentration of manure, which exposes cows, udders, and teats to higher concentrations of the environmental mastitis-causing pathogens. These include the coliforms, such as Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumonia, and the environmental streptococci, such as Streptococcus uberis and Streptococcus dysgalactiae. Under such conditions, the practice of pre-dipping becomes even more important during milking hygiene by reducing these environmental pathogens on teats prior to milking, which 1) reduces the rate of new intramammary infections (mastitis), and 2) reduces the amount of bacteria entering the milking system, thereby reducing the herd milk bacteria count. Post-milking teat dipping is also still very important in preventing new infections with the contagious pathogens, Staph. aureus, Strep. agalactiae, and Mycoplasma species.   

The Brazilian dairy industry falls a bit behind the Argentine industry; however, there are dairies in certain geographical areas (e.g. Castrolandia) that have high-producing cows, low levels of mastitis, and excellent milk quality. In general, dairy farms in Brazil tend to have higher levels of mastitis, as indicated by elevated SCC, and higher bacteria counts than Argentina.

The U.S. dairy industry has taken many decades to evolve to where it is today as a world leader. Brazil can follow our lead and example, learn by our mistakes, and develop into a major world milk producer in 5-10 years, just a fraction of the time that it took the U.S. The potential is huge in this country with its land, livestock, and water resources.