When our cow, Mayberry, developed mastitis, I didn’t initially suspect anything was wrong. I’d collected her from the pasture as usual, and she was just as ornery as ever, tossing her head when I haltered her and walking with a brisk pace back to the barn. She practically dragged me the whole way, eager to bury her head in the grain bucket. It wasn’t until I went to wash her up that I made the unpleasant discovery that one of her udder quarters was swollen, lumpy, and hot to the touch. A quick temperature check proved she was running a slight fever. My first thought was that she likely had mastitis, an illness I’d dreaded but had never dealt with. I had, however, heard the horror stories of gangrenous symptoms, permanently scarred udders, and swift death, so I immediately started researching natural cures.
On our family farm, we prefer to stay as far away from chemical medications as possible, choosing instead to use self-sufficient and natural methods that work with an animal’s immune system. Unfortunately, I was caught unprepared and had to rely on a pharmaceutical cure that time. Several months later, however, when one of our milking goats came down with mastitis, I was armed with the knowledge and materials to treat her naturally. While most of my methods were experimental then, I now use a tried-and-true remedy (below) that I’ve developed over the years.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland tissue, most commonly caused by bacteria. It can take different forms in animals, from severe clinical mastitis, which often leads to death, to subclinical mastitis that presents with few symptoms. Mastitis can be caused by unclean living conditions, nonsterile milking equipment, contact with infected milk, and erratic milking. Mastitis can also occur after an injury, and stressed animals are more susceptible to the condition. Milder symptoms can include a swollen udder, fever, blood in the milk, and stringy and clumpy milk. If mastitis isn’t treated, it can lead to listlessness, lethargy, appetite loss, and death.
My goal with this article is to focus on a treatment for mastitis instead of the condition itself, but I encourage you to research mastitis and learn how to properly identify it in your livestock. If you suspect mastitis but aren’t able to confidently confirm that suspicion, contact your vet to confirm a diagnosis. Once you have an understanding of the causes and symptoms of mastitis, you’ll be better able to stock your shelves with natural treatments.
The ingredients I use to treat mastitis are all natural, and I chose them for their various healing properties. You can grow, harvest, or make each of these ingredients yourself, or source them locally.
Garlic is an old-fashioned remedy for many illnesses. My family has used it for as long as I can remember. We take it whenever we get an inkling that we’re coming down with any type of sickness. Garlic is an anti-inflammatory and an antimicrobial, and it’s been used for centuries to treat infections and help boost immune systems.
Raw honey is also an immunomodulator (an immune booster, in this case) and an antimicrobial, and it can be used topically to help dehydrate bacteria and heal wounds. Its sugar provides energy, and the sweetness helps the remedy go down easier.
Turmeric’s bright-yellow, earth-flavored roots are well-known for their medicinal properties. They’re packed with nutrients, and they’re also an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant, and an antiviral.
Apple cider vinegar is the most processed of all the ingredients. As the name implies, it’s apple cider that’s been fermented into vinegar. The fermentation process creates organic probiotics that assist digestion by boosting the stomach’s beneficial bacteria. It’s also an antimicrobial.
I’ve found a few other methods that work to some degree as either relief or treatment for mastitis, but they aren’t sustainable or effective enough for me to use as a primary treatment. Instead, they work well as supportive methods alongside my remedy.
Cabbage leaves are an old folk remedy for mastitis. I’ve found that they work fine to provide symptom relief, but I haven’t had any success using them as a treatment.
Vitamin B complex is an intramuscular injection that helps boost energy, but it can be unpleasant to administer and requires you to know how to do so safely.
Probiotics can be a big help, no matter how badly the animal’s immune system is compromised. You can administer probiotics alongside antibiotics to help balance gut microbiota, especially in goats, cows, and other ruminants, which rely on that microbiota to digest their food properly.
If possible, reduce your animal’s milk production to help speed recovery. Most commercial feeds designed for dairy animals are formulated to increase milk production. If you can do so safely, cut back on these feeds so the udder has a chance to recover rather than swelling with extra milk.
Milk your animal multiple times a day. When the udder swells up, the mammary glands can get clogged with infected milk. Extra milkings, at least every few hours, will help rid the udder of infection and release some of the painful pressure.
This recipe can easily be adjusted, and as long as the animal will eat grain, it should consume the remedy readily enough. Our cows are a miniature breed (Dexter), so we give the same dosage to them as we do to our goats. You may need to increase the dosage slightly for larger animals. I’ve only used this treatment on goats and cows; if you plan to use it on other animals or add to the recipe, consult with your veterinarian to make sure all the ingredients are safe for consumption.
I feed this remedy once a day to treat minor cases of mastitis and twice a day to treat major cases. It’s shown promising results when given early or to animals with minor cases. (When we gave it to our goat, she showed improvement in two days and was back to normal in five days.) I haven’t applied it to any extreme or advanced cases without the assistance of synthetic treatments, because, while effective, I’m concerned it won’t act fast enough. This remedy treats slower than most pharmaceuticals, which are often designed for speedy relief. With severe or advanced cases of mastitis, I give this remedy as a supplement to support the animal’s immune system while the prescription medication does its job.
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons turmeric (I use powdered, but freshly minced is more potent)
- 5 tablespoons honey
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- Grain (the animal’s average ration)
- Finely chop garlic cloves. I’ve never noticed a difference in effectiveness between peeled and unpeeled cloves, so I leave them as raw as possible (unpeeled), reasoning that there’s likely some hidden nutrients in the peel.
- In a bowl, mix together garlic, turmeric, and honey. The consistency should be almost paste-like. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or pail, mix apple cider vinegar with grain and let soak for a few minutes. Once grain has soaked, mix garlic paste into grain mixture.
- Feed grain mixture to your sick animal once or twice a day, depending on the severity of the mastitis.
Allisen Moore works as the farm manager on her family farm. Her passion for holistic medicine and herbs drives her to find natural solutions to everyday problems.