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1708 PD: Sustain udder health with improved winter weather milking management

Norm Schuring Published on 26 November 2008

With the arrival of winter weather, many producers recognize the need to re-think milking strategies by implementing revised operating procedures to maintain udder health and milk quality. During winter, especially in northern climates, extremely cold and windy conditions contribute to excessive drying of the teat skin, which normally leads to chapping and other skin irritations. Freezing wind chill temperatures can result in frostbite. Even in such harsh weather conditions there is hope; your selection of teat dips may help reduce the risks associated with these cold and windy conditions.

Choosing the right teat dip for winter and paying close attention to parlor procedures can help maintain healthy teats and milk quality. The early implementation of a harsh weather teat care program is important and must be considered for your herd to survive the conditions associated with winter’s climate conditions. Instead of reacting to cold weather’s arrival, reduce the opportunity for teat damage to occur altogether with proactive and proven programs – prevention is the key.

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Considerations for winter teat dip
Evaluating the effectiveness of individual teat dips is best done through a combination of methods, including careful review of performance data – compiled through university and laboratory studies which should be available from the manufacturer. When reviewing performance information it is important to note whether a dip is listed by the National Mastitis Council (NMC) for effectiveness and whether a protocol study was conducted. This is the best way to compare actual performance between two products. Once a dip is selected, monitor the herd’s new intramammary infection rates and teat skin condition before, during and after use. Evaluate your program in light of the changing weather and other conditions normally influencing herd health and make any necessary management changes.

Winter-specific dips for winter-specific challenges
Producers should select the dip that best fits the needs of their particular management style, milking routine and environment. Any post-milking teat dip must be evaluated based on its effectiveness in killing bacteria present on the teat, as well as its skin-conditioning ability.

A key advantage to winter-specific teat dips is an increase in the amount of emollients present to condition and protect the teat after milking and during exposure to harsh weather conditions. Emollients serve as a physical barrier that will not freeze, even in cold temperatures.

They provide multiple benefits, including:

• Helps teat skin remain soft and pliable while maintaining an improved ability to function as the first line of defense against new mastitis infections.

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• Contains very little water, preventing or slowing teat dip evaporation.

• Prevents a decrease in skin surface temperature caused by evaporation, which may lead to skin drying and frostbite.

• Attracts moisture to the skin from the underlying levels of tissue and the air.

• Provides the added value of improved milk quality and peace-of-mind knowing cows’ teats are properly protected during harsh weather.

• Serves as a teat dip all year long when producers find value in higher emollient dips.

• Can provide emollient levels of 50 percent or more for winter-weather dipping, which is much higher than conventional dips that typically range from 1 to 15 percent.

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Winter management considerations
Supporting milk quality during winter weather begins with careful planning and implementation of seasonal changes to milking management, which should be established well before the frost occurs. To achieve the end goal of maintaining udder health, keeping teat skin healthy should be the top priority, as this is a primary defense against mastitis infection.

Continue to post-dip to minimize new infections and maintain teat integrity. Refraining from using teat dip provides cows no protection from environmental organisms that live in cold weather and offers no protection against wind chill and frostbite. There is a common misconception that post-dipping in harsh weather exposes teat ends to the outdoor extremes. On the contrary, dipping actually provides the defense teats need to stay healthy and viable year-round.

Cold-season preparation may also include a parlor checkup to ensure vacuum and pulsation levels are optimized to promote udder and teat health while supporting machine performance. Other considerations during extreme cold conditions include adopting a milking routine that ensures teats are dry when exiting the parlor. With the use of winter-specific dips you can, however, reduce the need for teat drying before exit, since these dips are formulated to be considerably less likely to drip or freeze.

Sound milking practices and managing environmental exposure are essential to maintaining milk quality and udder hygiene. Winter teat damage can be minimized by limiting cows’ exposure to the primary adversaries to teat health. In northern regions of the country, where severe cold weather represents a risk for frostbite, cattle should be housed with adequate protection from extreme conditions.

Rather than stopping your post-dipping routine, utilize dips specially designed to condition and protect the teat from chapping and wind damage. This will encourage improved teat-end integrity and lower the number of new mastitis infections – just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Choose a plan that is easy to facilitate as you transition into winter milking and help protect your cows from the dangerous seasonal elements. These efforts will go a long way in maintaining the same udder health, hygiene and milk quality you strive for, regardless of the season. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice President for WestfaliaSurge

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