Winter Teat Care - Dip But Don't Drip!
Published in Dairy Star January 15, 2005
Cold winter weather in the Midwest creates special challenges for dairymen trying to maintain healthy teats on the cows in their milking string. Teat dipping is the accepted norm as an important practice toward controlling mastitis in dairies. But when cold weather hits, the temptation is to quit post-dipping teats. In typical winter conditions, there are seldom post-dipping problems; however, when wind chills approach minus (-) 25° F, preventive measures are in order. This is a time when special concerns call for special care.
Researchers at several land-grant universities have documented that chapped and cracked teats are more prone to infection, including Staph aureus, in cold weather. The cracks harbor bacteria and offer an entrance for further infection. There are some management practices that can be followed, however, without compromising the protection of teat dipping. Consider these:
- Many dairies today are pre-dipping as a standard milking routine year around to reduce bacteria on the teat at the start of milking. If not already pre-dipping, consider using this practice during cold weather in place of washing with water. Water tends to remove more of the natural oils protecting teats and the skin. Pre-dipping aids the cleaning process while giving another level of disinfection.
- 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. This will help assure healthier teats of the cows in the milking string. Healthy teats will also provide an easier job for the milkers since cows will not be as sensitive to their touch and the application of the milking units.