Cold weather mastitis management? Ya, U Betcha!
A lot of people, myself included, think about mastitis management mostly in the summer. After all, that's when we see the highest incidence of mastitis. However, mastitis occurs every month of the year. It may not be on the top of the priority list during winter, but it should be on the list nonetheless. You already know about all of the health and economic impacts of mastitis, so why jeopardize your cows and your bottom line? You have your typical mastitis routine - dry treatment, monitoring fresh cows, keeping stalls clean, and the like. However, are you managing for the specific threats and stressors that only winter brings?
First, we know it's cold. Well - it's usually cold. This December has been a bit of a goof so far, but I have no doubt the temperatures will drop. When that happens, make sure your cows (as always) have access to shelter and an ample amount of clean, dry bedding. These aren't just for mastitis prevention, but are important factors to overall cow management in the winter. Like with any season, the ultimate goal is to keep the amount of stress on your cows low. Making sure your cows are properly sheltered and that barns have adequate ventilation will keep them comfortable, and will prevent them from needing to use extra energy to keep warm. Cows can handle fairly cold temperatures; wind chills are what really bother cows and make them use extra energy. At the very least, keeping cows out of the wind will help keep them comfortable.
Providing clean, dry bedding is always on the top of my list for proper management. It's especially important in the winter that cows are kept dry and clean. If they enter the parlor with a particularly dirty udder, it will require more cleaning. If the udder is not properly dried, there is a risk of frostbite. Long hair can also make udders difficult to keep clean and dry. If you don't already, consider singeing or clipping udders.
On the subject of udders and teats, teat dip can also put your cows at risk for frostbite. Of course, you need to dip your cows, so what can you do? My Extension colleague, Chuck Schwartau, put it best: "Dip but don't drip!" If I could rewrite that line, I would say, "dip but don't drip or skip!" When the weather is freezing and the winds are howling with below 20 wind chills, you may be tempted to not post dip your cows. Even in the winter - don't skip it.
If you don't post dip, you are losing one of the major steps in preventing infections. The post dip is too important to leave out, but the way you manage post dipping in the winter may need to be tweaked a bit. You'll remember from one of my past articles that optimum contact time for pre-dip is 30 seconds. After the 30 seconds, the dip has done its job and can be wiped off to continue the milk prep routine. Similarly, a strategy you could implement in the winter is to put post dip on for a 30 second contact time, then dry teats before sending cows out of the parlor. You will still get the protection of the post dip, but won't run the risk of frost-bitten teats. This practice will add some time to milking, but it only needs to be implemented in extreme cold weather. Or consider using powdered teat dips.
One last tip I have for you - consider nutrition. Cows are systemic creatures; every system in a cow's body and environment needs to be working and maintained properly for optimum comfort and health. Proper nutrition will ensure the cow has enough energy and other nutrients. With enough energy, she won't be battling cold stress. With no cold stress to fight, her immune system will not be suppressed and she will able to effectively fight off an infection. Feed rations that are formulated to supplement forages. Take into consideration the cows' requirements for protein, energy, minerals and vitamins, including vitamins A, D, and E; macrominerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur; and microminerals selenium, zinc, and copper.
Winter can be a tough time on producers and cows alike. Ease your burden by managing for mastitis year-round. Keeping cows out of the wind, providing bedding that is clean and dry, ensuring udders are dry, and maintaining a balanced ration will help your cows get through winter without mastitis, without frostbite, and without problems from cold stress. So if you find yourself asking, "Do I need to manage for mastitis in the winter?" The answer is always, "Ya! U betcha!"