Although we have had some mild temperatures recently winter and its colder temperatures is on our doorstep. For the lactating dairy cow, the biggest challenge to winter weather is teat health. While the teat has naturally occurring oils that help to prevent skin chapping, cracking and damage in cold weather, the process of milking involving washing, pre and post dips can remove those oils and expose wet teat tissue to cold temperatures. Never a great combination. This week, Dr. Luciana DaCosta, OSU Extension dairy veterinarian offers the following suggestions for dairy managers to keep dairy cow teats healthy during the winter months.
Generally, teat skin damage, chapped teats and an increased number of hyperkeratosis can happen during cold winter months. Those are key factors predisposing cows to mastitis. Some researchers have shown that wind chill has an impact that is more important than actual ambient temperature. When wind chills stay above zero, frozen teats are unlikely, between zero and -25 degrees, frozen teats are possible, and if wind chills remain at or below -25 degrees, teats, especially if wet, can freeze in less than one minute. Some approaches to prevent teat end damage and maintain cow teat and udder health include:
- Maintain teat skin condition - selecting a proper teat dip is fundamental to keep the skin’s condition healthy. Emollients are crucial to protect, heal and soften skin in cold weather.
- Well maintained equipment- watch out for malfunctioning curtains e.g. to diminishing the wind factor and provide protection. Blocking the wind from loading areas and return alleys outside the parlor will reduce the wind-chill temperatures. This will help prevent chapping and frostbite.
- Offer an optimum housing environmental – keep bedding clean, dry. It is true that bacteria grows better in high temperature and humidity. However, remember that stall surface is only about few degrees lower than body temperature when cows are lying down, still warm enough for bacteria to multiply.
- Keeping bedding clean helps to keep cows clean - this way less water is necessary to wash and clean teats. Water removes natural oils from the teats.
- Rely on numbers rather than assumptions – if during the cold months you notice that hyperkeratosis (rough teat ends) is becoming a problem, let your veterinarian know. S(he) will probably score some cows to establish a baseline to manage changes in the future.
- Use post-dip – new winter formulation dips with high emollient content or powder based dips can be used to maintain skin conditioning and the germicidal activity so important for controlling mastitis.
Last but not least, don’t wait until last minute to make a plan and be prepared. Paying attention to these details can minimize the impact of cold weather on cows allowing them to produce high quality milk throughout winter.