Dr. Joe Hogan, Mammary Health Specialist, The Ohio State University
Cold, winter weather usually has harsh effects on unprotected teat skin. A couple of common sense practices can be helpful in preventing teat skin damage and subsequent mastitis. Dr. Leo Timms at Iowa state University has published a number of papers available through the National Mastitis Council (www.nmconline.org) outlining practical management tools to prevent teat skin chapping and cracking. A couple of his main points are listed below:
Temperature. Wind chill temperatures of less than -25 oF put teats at extreme risk to freezing and frost bite. Less extreme chapping and cracking is likely at wind chill temperatures less than 0 oF. Appearance of skin problems is usually obvious within 2 to 3 days after exposure. Climate control for cows is usually not practical, but preventing cows from exposure to wind while teats are wet will help prevent cracking and lesions.
Windbreaks. Provide windbreaks for cows as they leave milking parlors. Feed and house cows inside if possible during times of wind chill temperatures below 0 oF. Avoid drafts in barns that create wind tunnels that allow rapid movement of cold air. Wet teats are more likely to be damaged by cold, so use bedding in stalls that is as dry as possible.
Milking Hygiene. Avoid using excessive water for preparing teats for milking in cold weather. Washing removes natural oils and the drying action associated with using large quantities of water can be abrasive to skin. Water not dried can freeze and harm the teat skin. Sanitize teats with a germicidal predip containing skin conditioner. Blot teats dry instead of rubbing.
Post-Milking Teat Dips. Use a germicidal teat dip that does not harm the teat skin. Various products claim enhanced skin health due to addition of skin conditioning components. These may be beneficial in cold weather to help reduce drying and chapping of teat skin. The current recommendations are to dip and blot excess dip from the teat end before releasing the cow from the parlor. In extreme cold, quitting dipping for one or two milkings may be a realistic route to reduce the risk of cold weather damage. However, because omitting post dip application will increase the risk of spreading contagious mastitis pathogens, stopping teat dipping is not a practical long term solution.
Barrier teat dips should not be used during times of extreme cold because these dips may take over twenty minutes to dry. Dips with over 50% emollients have also been slow to dry and also leave teats sticky and wet. Powder dips have shown minimal activity against contagious pathogens, but they do dry teats. Use of powder products has been suggested as an alternative to not dipping for a day or two. Finally, avoid salves. Most salves have diminished antimicrobial activity and can attract dirt, bedding, and other contaminates to teat skin.