Winter udder care and mastitis prevention

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Each winter is different across the state. Last year, the coldest part of winter was at Christmas when highs were in the negative teens while this year we are almost at 60 F. Winter has finally visited this week with freezing temperatures most nights, but thawing out during the day. One of these days that cold blast of winter will come.

Bedding

The foundation of mastitis control is milking clean dry teats and udders. While it may be assumed that pathogens don’t grow as well in free stalls or bedded packs in the winter, that is not the case. While the air temperature may be lower to slow bacterial growth when a cow lies down, they warm the bedding surface within a few degrees of the cow’s body temperature.

Winter conditions also have slower evaporation, often leaving stalls damper encouraging bacterial growth. Especially in a winter like this when the weather is humid and mild it is often necessary to bed and groom stalls more often. Bedded packs and compost-bedded packs often need more bedding too. Not only does damp bedding encourage bacteria growth it also sticks to cows more creating dirty udders at milking.

When organic bedding like straw, manure solids or sawdust is used as free stall bedding, adding a little gypsum or hydrated lime to the bedding can help dry stalls out or lower the pH to a point where bacterial growth is slowed. Be extra careful in the winter with hydrated lime that is mixed with the bedding as large amounts on the teats can damage the skin.

Teats

In both conventional milking systems and automated milking systems it becomes even more important to inspect teat ends and skin for chapping in the winter. Be sure to watch fresh cows the closest due to udder edema leading to poor circulation. In cool conditions, wet teats are prone to chapping while cold conditions can create a risk for frostbite.

Wind chills create the greatest risk for frostbite. A temperature of 10 F with a 10 mph wind makes the wind chill -4 F. Anytime the wind chill temperature falls below 0 F the chances of teats being frostbitten increases. To manage wind chill be sure curtains are working properly without holes so that cows don’t experience a draft when walking in the barn. If cows walk outside after exiting the barn, using bales to make a windbreak can improve teat care.

The next place to focus for teat care in the winter is on post-dip. There are many different formulations of post-dip some of which are a special winter formulation and some that an additive can be changed for varying weather conditions. Winter post-dips have higher levels of emollients in them that serve as lotions/conditioners to soften skin through the cold weather.

Skin conditioners like glycerin and lanolin are ideal as they leave less water on the skin to cause chapping or freezing. Increasing the amount of emollients in the teat dip as the temperature declines is like adding more antifreeze to your engine to protect it from freezing. Be sure to follow the instructions on these dips as they often need to be mixed each milking to keep them in proper suspension.

When cows are going to be exiting the parlor into freezing conditions in the barn or during a walk outside, make sure teats are not too wet with dip dripping off. During severe wind chill conditions where cows exit the parlor and walk outside, allow post-dip to have 30 seconds of skin contact time, then blot off excess dip to help protect the teats. Keeping dips warm not only improves cow comfort but also improves drying time.

Udders

Removing udder hair will help improve cleanliness and decrease mud, manure and bedding that may cling to the udders. If possible, avoid washing the udders in the winter. If udders are wet and dirty, dry them only, and, if extra cleaning is needed, focus only on the teats.

While udder salves can help heal chapped udders, they should be used sparingly. Using them as a preventative can increase the amount of bedding that is sticking to the udder. If teats are lightly chapped, salves may help them heal faster but most of the time that is not the case. Instead, if chapped skin is found on a few cows, increasing the amount of emollients in the teat dip will help the chapped skin heal and prevent damage on other cows.

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