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0609 PD: Milk clean, dry cows to avoid seasonal mastitis

Published on 09 April 2009

Rising temperatures and increasing precipitation provide a perfect storm for mastitis-causing bacteria.

While northern climates offer the most dramatic climate changes, producers face changing weather challenges in all parts of the country, even in the more arid West. Regardless of geography, steps should be taken to help protect your cows from the onslaught of seasonal mastitis.



Roger Thomson, on retainer with ABS Technical Services, practices in Michigan and northern Indiana, where harsh winters lead to teat-end hyperkeratosis, or a thickened ring around the opening of the teat. Spring weather helps bacteria flourish, and dry, cracked skin and hyperkeratosis provide a good environment for bacteria.

“We really have two seasons – winter and humidity. Somatic cell counts (SCC) normally drop off in winter, but coliforms start to spike in the rainy, damp weather we have in the spring,” Thomson says. “Then in June through August, hot, humid weather gets summer coliforms going, just at a time when the cow’s immune system is suppressed.”

Gene Monfore, Milk Quality Specialist for ABS, covers the western U.S., where weather changes aren’t quite as severe but significant nonetheless.

“In the spring we get cool, wet weather that presents challenges to producers, especially those with open lot dairies,” Monfore says. “When cows are in a fair amount of mud, manure and urine, SCC rises and milk quality suffers.”

Both technical specialists say the best way to prevent seasonal mastitis is to keep teat skin in good condition and free from bacteria. But accomplishing this through weather changes requires a high level of persistence and management.


Weather changes have a dramatic impact on skin condition.

“Teat skin condition always gets worse in cold weather because skin sloughs off at a slower rate,” Thomson says. “Drier skin creates cracks and crevices where bacteria can grow, and pretty soon we end up with new mastitis infections.”

On the West Coast, Monfore sees a lot of cases where the teat skin dries out and begins chapping. “We suck all of the oil and emollients out of the teat skin by milking cows two or more times each day, plus the acid effect of being around more manure and urine,” he says. “So we need to always think about skin conditioning, and an effective teat pre- and post-dip will do an excellent job.”

Both Monfore and Thomson conduct on-farm training sessions and milker schools to make sure the proper procedures and routines are followed in the parlor. When it comes to preventing seasonal mastitis, the focus of their training is on managing teat condition:

• Keep cows clean.
It all starts by keeping stalls and walkways in the barn clean. When the living environment is kept clean, less organic matter sticks to the udder, reducing the chances that environmental pathogens can enter the teat cistern and migrate to the teat canal. Plus, teats free from debris provide more contact area for predips to work effectively.

• Pay attention to milking procedures.
Take time to train your milking staff on how to properly prep cows for milking and then monitor their performance. Thomson recommends the following:


– Use a towel to wipe off any debris from the udder before applying a predip product.

– When 60 seconds has elapsed after applying the pre-dip, forestrip each teat, then remove the predip with a single-use towel. Take an extra second or two to make sure the teat surface and teat end are completely clean.

– Attach the unit while minimizing vacuum escape and liner slips.

– Use an effective post-dip product that provides protection until the teat end seals.

• Use effective products.
It’s possible to milk the cleanest cows in the county and still have mastitis problems if ineffective teat-care products are used. One theme seems to ring true for any milk-quality product – you get what you pay for.

“Cheaper products often have inferior effectiveness when it comes to killing bacteria or conditioning the teat,” says Monfore. He recommends the following when deciding on which pre-, post-dip or barrier products to use:

– Be careful with iodine-based products.
“Low-cost iodine products can be very irritating to the teat skin. Also, the natural reaction to an iodine dip is to create thicker skin. This type of skin doesn’t exfoliate as quickly, and the condition gets worse as the weather gets worse, creating greater opportunities for hyperkeratosis,” Monfore says.

– Use a product that will help exfoliate the skin, removing dead skin cells.
Monfore says, “A good chlorine dioxide dip will kill pathogens and still keep the skin in good condition. You can also set up a regimen to help remove hyperkeratosis using a chlorine dioxide dip and good procedures over a period of six to 10 weeks.”

– If you are using a barrier dip, make it a good one and use it properly.
“Thickness (viscosity) of the barrier dip is critical. Inferior barrier dips have different viscosities and don’t form a film on the teat to protect it from pathogens. They also don’t dry down as fast, providing an opportunity for organic material to cling to the teat,” Monfore says. “Also, don’t apply a barrier to teats that are chapped, peeling or banged up in any way.”

While different geographies provide unique challenges in terms of weather and other environmental conditions, the principles behind avoiding seasonal mastitis apply no matter where you milk cows. Keep them clean, dry and well-stimulated using the right products and procedures to produce high-quality milk. PD

—Excerpts from ABS Technical Services Global Newsletter, April 2008