Sudden shifts in the weather are a stark reminder that dairy producers need to plan ahead to maintain udder health during the winter, says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist.
"Winter teat-end lesions are easily triggered when the temperature drops 20 degrees," he adds. "With inevitable cold winter weather on its way, the advent of teat-end lesions is likely to predispose cows to mastitis."
Wind chills and temperature changes are the major factors leading to winter teat challenges. Schroeder says the dairy manager's objectives should be to:
- Control exposure to weather factors as much as possible.
- Minimize other teat stressors that exacerbate the problem if cracking or freezing occurs.
- Keep the teat disinfected, healthy and soft as much as possible through proper milking procedures.
- Minimize secondary bacterial infections through proper milking practices and environmental sanitation.
"We can't control the weather, but we can control factors that will ensure cow comfort and the cows' udder health in the coming weeks," he says.
Here are ways he suggests producers accomplish those objectives:
- Control cold temperature exposure by providing windbreaks if animals have to go outside, feeding and housing cows indoors during cold weather when possible, avoiding drafts in buildings by keeping ventilation and openings controlled properly, and avoiding putting animals directly into extreme wind chills post-milking.
- Control stall/bedding environment by having comfortable, dry areas for animals, providing dry bedding, and maintaining and changing bedding at appropriate intervals. Recent research in Minnesota showed that bedding maintenance is critical to reducing bacterial exposure.
- Maintain milking equipment by checking vacuum and milk line hoses, pulsators, inflations and vacuum level; keeping pulsators clean; and changing inflations on schedule.
- Ensure pre-milking sanitation by using procedures that maximize teat disinfection and skin conditioning while minimizing irritation or trauma. Also pre-dip with a good germicidal dip with skin conditioner, blot teats dry instead of rubbing to minimize irritation on problem teats, and use milking hygiene practices like those used to control contagious mastitis (clean hands, gloves and individual towels). Cloth towels are best because they dry teats more thoroughly with less abrasion than other types of towels.
- Review people/milking machine/time interactions because using proper techniques is imperative to maximize unit performance (maximum flow/unit time) and minimize teat stress (extended milking due to low flow rates or gross overmilking).
"Remember that teat-end changes can occur rapidly in winter with dehydration and cracking, and at other times with acute machine problems," Schroeder says.
"Minimizing the weather effects through proper facilities and environments is job one. Some practices may need to be altered or adapted during cold weather (dipping, blotting, etc.), and the advantages and disadvantages should be carefully examined when evaluating using new technologies or products such as teat dips."
To date, researchers have found no protocol that stops cracked teats completely during the winter.