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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Milk quality and mastitis > Udder scald may be more costly than you think

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Udder scald may be more costly than you think

Jeffrey K. Reneau, Professor of Dairy Management

Published in Dairy Star December 13, 2008

Udder scald is a moist often foul smelling dermatitis between the udder and upper thigh or between the udder halves of cows. Very little is known about the exact cause. Dermatitis found between the udder and the upper thigh is often present in early lactation, thought to be a sequel to skin damage caused by the extra pressure against the upper thigh due to udder edema, is most frequently found in first lactation cows. Cornell University veterinarians reported in a 1600-cow herd case that dermatitis between udder halves may be associated with sarcoptic mange but were not able to prove this with certainty. They also found lesions to be more prevalent in later lactation older cows. This may suggest that the condition we commonly called udder scald is really two different conditions. Regardless of the exact cause, the resulting skin lesion is painful for the cow and a nuisance for milkers. A recent University of Minnesota and Illinois collaborative study has shown that this condition in early lactation causes high milk losses. Milk production losses averaged 681 pounds for each cow having this condition, which is equal in comparison to digestive disorders (indigestion or diarrhea) for which milk production losses were 682 pounds. In this study, 82% of the udder scald cases were in first calf heifers and the average days in milk at diagnosis was 10 days. Only five cases were recorded past 42 days in milk and only one was a first lactation cow.

A novel statistical process control approach was used to analyze daily production records enabling a comparison of cows with no health events post-calving to those with postpartum health problems. Since milk production is a very sensitive indicator of emerging health problems, the analysis method not only detected the losses in milk production, it also predicted the onset of the emerging clinical problem and, in some cases, 8 to 10 days before the actual clinical diagnosis. We are hopeful that these procedures can be extended to commercial dairy farm use in the near future.

Table 1. Milk production of losses (lb) for common post-calving diseases, when losses began to occur before clinical diagnosis was made and the duration of losses after clinical diagnosis.
Disease Days milk losses detected before diagnosis Duration of milk losses after diagnosis Total milk losses (lb)
Digestive disorders (indigestion or diarrhea) 5 >49 682
Udder scald 9 >49 681
LDA 5 >49 517
Retained placenta 2 >49 432
Milk fever 1 14 348
Udder edema 1 35 316
Ketosis 10 28 269
Metritis 10 28 250

The cardinal rule of every successful herd health program is to achieve early problem identification. Preventive transition cow management and fresh cow programs are very important. Because of its relatively hidden location, udder scald is generally not noticed and is found only after the lesion is smelly and a severe skin erosion has developed. What can we do to lessen or prevent udder scald?

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