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Teat skin condition matters

Chris Elliott and Paul Virkler for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 September 2017

Sometimes it is amazing to think about how much hinges on the four teats of the dairy cow. If a teat is damaged or destroyed, we potentially lose the milk from that quarter or, worse yet, with a severe infection we lose the whole cow.

Although it seems obvious, it is worth reinforcing: All the milk sold from an individual cow comes through the four teat ends. Also, greater than 99 percent of the mastitis-causing organisms that enter the udder come in through the four teat ends. This means it is critical we do everything we can to support a healthy teat and teat end in order to harvest as much high-quality milk as possible.



There has been a lot of emphasis put on teat-end scores, with most farms being aware of “poor teat ends” and what they look like. We find there is much less knowledge about teat skin condition and even fewer farmers who routinely score teats in this category.

Over the years, we have had the opportunity to repeatedly teat score a significant number of herds and watch what happens through the different seasons. This has allowed us the opportunity to establish a solid baseline and then compare each visit to this baseline in order to more accurately make recommendations to improve teat skin condition.

Why should you care about teat skin condition?

1. The cow’s ability to fight off mastitis is compromised when she has unhealthy teat skin

As anyone who has worked on troubleshooting a mastitis problem knows, it is a multifactorial problem that can be overwhelming at times. Focusing on the teat skin condition of the herd as a whole, though, can pay big dividends without a lot of management time.


If you can successfully promote better teat skin condition on the vast majority of cows, you have put in place an insurance policy that continues to work at all hours of the day at the level of each individual teat.

2. Milkability is affected

A cracked or chapped teat can be very painful, causing cows to negatively react when prepped and when the milking machine is attached. This can lead to more manure splash onto teat ends, more kick-offs, more re-attaches and more cows leaving the parlor not milked out.

For anyone who has had a crack on the ends of their own fingers in the wintertime, it is not hard to relate to how this would feel with a milking machine attached. Remember: In the vast majority of cases, the start of these lesions is dry skin that cracks open. Preventing cows from developing these open lesions by keeping the skin healthy is the best strategy.

3. Reduce the risk of contagious mastitis spread

Staph aureus is well-known to colonize the cracks and crevices of teat skin. Promoting healthy teat skin reduces the ability of this contagious pathogen to gain a foothold if it is passed to the teat of a new animal.


So how do you know what the teat skin condition is on your dairy? Ideally, someone – such as your veterinarian or other outside consultant – would formally score your cows in the category of teat skin condition. This should be done multiple times per year to capture the variation by season.

Usually the largest challenge on skin condition is in the winter, although this is not true on every farm. It continues to amaze us how the abnormal can become normal for the owner and employees of a farm. On one Friday afternoon, Paul teat scored a herd where 40 percent of the cows had one or more teats with an open lesion.

This had gone largely unnoticed by the management of the dairy until the magnitude of the problem was pointed out. The good news was: After a change in the emollient package of the post-dip and a little time, the situation largely corrected itself. end mark

Paul Virkler is with Quality Milk Production Services, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University.

Chris Elliott is the executive account manager at Ecolab Inc. Email Chris Elliott.