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0808 PD: Do you know the major contributors to teat-end health?

Chuck Laney Published on 19 May 2008

Although it does not always seem like it, there is a lot of science that goes into milking cows these days.

Milking equipment, takeoffs, vacuum systems, liner materials and design and chemicals have all seen dramatic improvements over the past few decades. However, science has made little progress in understanding and clearly defining the causes and cures for rough teat ends. One thing we do know is that the most effective way to prevent hyperkeratosis is to not milk cows. Since that is not an option, what should you do?

Controlling your teat-end health comes down to a few things: milking systems and procedures, weather and genetics. When discussing these items and their influence, it is clear that not all aspects of teat-end health can be aggressively managed. To ensure that you know what type of progress you are making, when you do make a change, regular checks of your herd’s teat condition should be performed and recorded. This can be done using a vet, a consultant or on your own with some training. National Mastitis Council (www.nmconline.org) and the Teat Club International have developed scoring systems for teat health, and the National Teat Health Database (www.teathealth.com) can train you to score teats as well as provide a mechanism to track and benchmark a herd’s teat health.

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Are healthy teats really that important? Absolutely! Several studies have shown that there is a relationship between heavy hyperkeratosis and increased incidence of intramammary infections (IMIs). Improving teat-end condition can go a long way in promoting and ensuring good prep procedures are maintained and are effective. If there are too many rough and cracked teat ends in a herd, then the average prep procedures will take longer and teat dips will be much less effective. The goals for a herd should be a minimum of 80 percent healthy teats (no hyperkeratosis). This level of teat health is achievable on most dairies with the right attention to detail.

So now you have had your teat health measured and would like to improve your scores. Here are a few tips for what to do and what to expect.

Understand the effects of weather
Good old Mother Nature is one reason teat ends can take a turn for the worst. Although cold weather is usually seen as the culprit, there is recent research indicating that temperature fluctuation may have more of an effect on levels of hyperkeratosis than just the temperature alone. The worst times of the year for warm-cold temperature fluctuations are in the early spring and late fall. Average teat score can deteriorate as much as 10 percent during the worst parts of the year.

Get equipment working properly
Any way you cut it, the milking system is where any teat condition problem starts. The most influential factors for teat-end health have to do with the amount of compression applied by the liner and where the compression is applied to the teat. Make sure that pulsation and vacuum levels are performing to industry guidelines and that they are tuned to your specific liner design for the best compression of teats and the best overall milking performance.

The application of vacuum for milking cows is widely misunderstood. It is the combination of vacuum level and liner design that will determine the compressive load on the teat. Exposure to improper compressive load (either high or low) will deteriorate teat-end condition in as little as two weeks. Consider the case study in Figure 1*.

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Pulsators and pulsation systems should be a top priority and need to be operating properly or teat-end problems can be aggravated and turn into even bigger problems. If you are not sure what the best settings are for your equipment, or if your equipment is not working properly, consult your liner supplier or equipment dealer.

If you cannot improve the compression from your liners, the next best option is to minimize the number of closures on teats. Decreasing the unit-on time can be accomplished by improving prep procedures to ensure a good letdown of milk and improve peak flows. Adjusting take-off settings to remove units as quickly as possible after flow stops is another way to prevent overmilking. Care should be taken to properly plan and follow up on these types of changes.

Understand the effects of genetics
It is well documented that teat shape can have an effect on the level of hyperkeratosis at the teat end. Long, pointed teats generally have the poorest teat-end health, oftentimes becoming very rough under fairly normal milking conditions. Although selecting genetics for teat size and shape is easier now than ever, there are no short-term solutions here.

If all else fails, treat the symptoms
The use of teat dips to soften or remove keratin buildup is a possibility. Combining these with aggressive pre-milking procedures that thoroughly clean the teat ends can reduce the number of cows with hyperkeratosis. This may not be a bad strategy for the short-term, but it is only a Band-Aid. Long-term, you will need to eliminate the root cause of the problem. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at

Chuck Laney
Lauren AgriSystems
President

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