Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Gloves are elementary for milking

Sharon Booth and John Phillips Published on 19 November 2009

The natural centuries-old art of dairy cow milking has undergone significant and irreversible change in the last 40 years. In the effort to maximize dairy production, owners have fine-tuned the science of feeding for maximum milk production, made other improvements in protocol, and improved milking parlor sanitation.

As dairy herds have grown in number and size, milking standards have changed to meet ever-more stringent health guidelines. Part of the growing regulation of milk production and herd health has resulted in the increased need for hand protection in milking operations. The use of disposable ambidextrous boxed gloves has seen a significant rise in the last decade.



As the trend in larger dairies to employ non-family members as milking help expands, the added concern of worker safety has become an additional reason to institute a mandatory process for glove wearing during milking. As recently as 10 years ago, very few dairies were known to include glove wearing in their milking process, but recent statistics show that nearly half of all dairies now do. The prevention and control of the spread of mastitis and other diseases have become a major focal point in today’s dairy.

Any time a cow is out of service for a problem with her udder, there is a substantial loss in profit for the farm. Teat dips and udder rubs have been developed to help fight and assist in the prevention of the spread of disease. Gloves provide an extra layer of safety for the farmhand and the dairy herd, by creating a barrier of protection between the user and the organisms that can be found on the udder.

Sanitation protocol that includes glove wearing, helps limit the existence of and spread of both contagious and environmental organisms, and minimizes “down- time” for the herd. The most desirable milking glove is one that will not interfere with the important sense of touch that is a necessary part of milking, while providing a protective barrier for both the milker and the cow. It also needs to “fit like a second skin” and not prevent the natural hand movement needed by the milker in using modern milking equipment.

Poor fit, especially in the fingers, will allow glove fingertips to be pulled away from the hand while attaching the milking cups to the teats. In some cases, these glove pieces can be pulled along by suction into the milk reservoir itself, possibly causing milk contamination. Good fit is therefore a major concern in glove selection.

Glove thickness and length vary among gloves currently being used for dairy applications. The goal is to wear a glove thick enough to offer adequate protection, while not preventing the natural movement of the hand or causing hand fatigue. A glove with a slightly longer length of 10 inches or more, allows for full coverage of the wrist and added protection for the wearer.


Thickness helps to determine the durability of the hand protection, as does the material the gloves are made of; whether made of natural rubber latex or synthetic nitrile, rubber that mimics the fit and feel of latex. Although the highest-quality level of medical grade product is not necessary, it may be desirable. At a minimum, the glove chosen should meet requirements for contact with food substances, not just industrial applications.

The preferred glove is “super clean” and free of skin irritants that will compromise the natural barrier of the wearer’s skin. Components used in glove manufacturing can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions resulting in redness, itching and less observance of glove wearing protocol by the milker. The most desirable gloves are produced with a long-term “leaching” or cleaning process to ensure the gloves are free of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

While lightly powdered gloves are preferred when applying them to wet or dry hands, some gloves even offer the additional benefit of treating the skin during use with some therapeutic healing compound, and one glove on the market uses a powder that conditions the skin while it is being worn.

As glove wearing becomes a more accepted part of milking procedures, encouraging milker observance will be easier when the glove fits well, protects for the required length of time, and does not prevent natural hand function. A non-latex glove has the added benefit of removing the risk associated with latex allergies, which affects a small number of glove wearers, but can cause serious health and legal issues for owners.

The most important piece of the glove puzzle is finding a glove that you are comfortable wearing, and have the utmost trust in your personal protection. PD

Sharon Booth
Sales Manager
Summit Glove Inc.