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Best Ways to Preserve Teat Health Through Winter

25 March 2014

Spring is arriving for many but the cold US winter hangs on and means teat care remains a major consideration on dairy farms.

Although cooler temperatures reduce much of the stress dairy cattle face, there are more challenges in terms of teat condition, according to Dairy Extension Agent Beverley Cox of Virginia Tech.

As temperature drops, maintaining skin moisture is more difficult, leading to chapping, writes Beverley. Just as chapped, bleeding hands are painful for us, teat chapping is equally irritating for cattle.

Discomfort from this chapping makes udder prep and milking painful for the animal. Not surprisingly, these animals may respond with additional kicking and milk letdown can be reduced.

Cracks in teat skin may emerge on the teat barrel or teat end. Cracked teats create the ideal environment for bacteria to hide and proliferate; these bacteria have the potential to migrate into the udder, where new infections may emerge.

Research also shows certain viruses (herpes and pseudo cowpox) thrive in cold temperatures.

These viruses can produce lesions on teat ends, which, at first glance, may appear to be from chapping or milking system problems (high vacuum).

If you are experiencing adverse effects on teat condition from cold weather, keep these points in mind as you evaluate your situation:

Provide clean, dry housing and protection from wind to reduce the number of new environmental infections.

This is probably the best way to ensure good teat condition throughout the winter

Secure sufficient bedding to keep stalls well bedded.
Making arrangements for alternative bedding sources may be necessary if you anticipate the supply of bedding will be tight.

Evaluate the emollient level of your teat dip. Higher emollients are needed in the winter to retain skin moisture and help heal chapped teats.

Glycerin levels of 5 to 10 percent are common in winter post-dips. Higher levels of emollient are especially important for cattle with limited shelter from wind and weather.

Make sure milking systems are functioning properly.

Teats that already are stressed from winter weather can be further compromised by poorly functioning milking equipment. Check operation of pulsators and make sure vacuum levels are in a normal range.

Remix dip if it becomes frozen. The active ingredients in teat dips can settle out if frozen.

Remixing these before use is important or the concentration of the dip will be too low near the top of the barrel and too strong at the bottom.

Keep using post dip.

Although you may be tempted to stop using teat dip during cold conditions, this actually can make problems worse. Contagious mastitis organisms (such as Staph aureus) can spread when post-dipping is stopped. Post-dipping also can control the spread of viruses that cause teat lesions. Emollients in the dip also aid in the recovery of chapped teats.

During very cold periods (below 15 F with wind chill), consider applying post-dip, allowing 30 seconds contact time, and wiping dry to prevent frozen teats.

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