The DECEMBER Issue
Winter Teat Care
Even beyond the exposure to environmental mastitis pathogens, cold weather can cause chapped or cracked teats. The teat's protective barrier becomes compromised and bacteria may be able to colonize the cracks in the skin, transfer into the gland at milking and cause mastitis. Teat care, especially in the cold seasons, is important for control of mastitis.
A major area of concern for many producers is teat disinfection when the weather gets cold. Questions regarding whether teat dipping should be continued, along with an influx of new products and technologies, have created uncertainties about the best practices and principles.
Providing a single answer is difficult because many variables (housing design, weather, degree of teat exposure and so on) must be considered. Consider these tips from the University of Minnesota Extension:
- Post-dipping creates a dilemma for most dairymen. It is tempting to discontinue teat dipping in extremely cold weather to reduce the risk of wet teats becoming frozen but the disadvantage is that the protection offered by teat dipping after every milking is lost. The recommended practice is to continue the normal dipping routine, but take extra steps for protection. First, allow the teat dip to be in contact with the teat for at least 30 seconds after dipping to allow for some drying time. Then, use a clean cloth towel to blot the teat dry. The teat needs to be dry because if any of the dip is dripping, the teat is still subject to freezing. It is recognized this practice will take slightly extra time during the milking routine. But remember, this is probably only necessary during extreme cold weather conditions. And, having healthy teats is far more preferable than milking cows with cracked or sore teats.
- Some teat dips have been developed that include emollients to help condition the skin. The greatest benefit of these products is to promote a softer skin surface on the teat and reduce chapping. However, sometimes the emollient products exhibit less antibacterial activity or even enhance Staph aureus on the teat surface. Teats covered with an emollient also take longer to dry, actually sending more wet teats out the parlor door.
- Regardless of the product being used for dipping, be sure the dip itself has been protected from freezing. Frozen teat dips may separate out resulting in the active ingredient being found in much higher concentrations at the bottom of the bulk container. Stir or mix the bulk dip before filling the dip cups or the system being used for application. This helps assure the dipping practice will be more effective and it may prevent burning teats if a highly concentrated product was unintentionally applied.
- Some dairy operators switch to a dry powder dip in extreme cold weather. This seems appealing since the powder should help dry the teat as well as offer antibacterial protection. In practice, however, the powders are more difficult to apply for good coverage, and the aerosol powder in the air may prove to be an irritant to those working in the parlor.
- Sometimes ointment and salves are appropriately applied to teats. These products can offer good treatment if teats have become chapped or cracked. However, as a substitute for the practice of teat dipping, they won't save time over dipping and drying.
- A more easily managed method to prevent teats from freezing is to provide a wind-free area for the cows when they leave the parlor. The cold temperature is not as much a problem as the wind chill so reducing the exposure of the teats to the wind is a tremendous benefit. A wind-free area might be a permanent, enclosed walkway from the parlor back to the barn, or it could be just a temporary winter windbreak such as a number of large bales stacked together. Whatever method is used, the goal is to reduce the freezing potential on tender teats.
In summary, dry teats and wind protection are the two simplest protective measures to prevent freezing teats on cows. A little extra time spent at the end of the milking process to guarantee dry teats during cold weather conditions will be time well spent.