Winter Teat Health

Winter brings many challenges to a farm operation. One area I receive constant questions about is winter teat health. Many factors can go into what type of dip to use, but we must always remember why we dip in the first place.

The purpose of teat dipping is to provide a germicide that will kill mastitis germs and apply skin conditioners that keep teat skin and ends healthy. These are both essential to minimize mastitis risks. In winter, we want these same things, but we want to make sure that when we dip, we don’t compromise one for another (frozen teats, more germs on teats). Damaged teat skin brings about opportunities for mastitis. In the winter, the skin condition can change dramatically in as little as two to three days, causing even faster damage from actual freezing.

Many dips will provide adequate protection to temperatures near the freezing point; however, windchill can still cause issues, even in fairly warm temperatures. The first step in protection comes before we even get to dipping the cows. Do your best to protect all cows from the wind by closing all areas possible. Keep the bedding conditions dry and clean. Lastly, remove any areas that puddle water or manure to keep from any opportunity to splash up to the udder.

Now that we are refreshed on why we dip, here are some common questions I receive about dipping during winter.

Can I use the same dip I have been using?

Most days, it’s not cold enough to freeze the drop on the teat end, so in short, yes you can. In other situations (cold wind chills and/or direct exposure post-milking), dab or wick the drop off the end with a cloth towel. This takes very little time and effort. Do not dry the teat as it removes the dip/conditioners. This has been proven to work.

What if I have been using barrier dips?

Certain barrier dips tend to be more of a slow-drying option due to film-forming characteristics. A slower-drying dip can leave wet teats exposed while the cows are returning to their holding areas; thus, it is generally not recommended. There are some barriers, however, that have fast-drying components or are specifically designed for winter application. Check with your chemical representative for the best options if you want to use a barrier.

Can I add extra emollients on my own?

Never add extra conditioners to dip on your own. The saying “too much of a good thing” can hold true with some emollients. Formulation matters. The wrong combination could cause more harm than good by reducing the kill of your dip package or by actually pulling moisture from the teat rather than the air. Check with your manufacturer representative as to the proper formulations and quantities.

What about teat dips marketed for winter use? The ones with high emollients?

I know the real reason this question gets asked. Reading between the lines, I will rephrase the question – “Winter dips are expensive, do I really need them?”

Winter dips are specifically designed for extremely cold conditions. Not only to protect your cows from the cold but to also protect the teat skin from the effects of windchill. Temperatures can hover around the freezing mark, and your traditional dips will be just fine, but add in the effects of windchill and the reflected temperature on the skin can drop to well below freezing, thus causing teat damage. Think about how dry and cracked your hands or feet can get in the winter, especially if they are exposed to wet conditions and then the dry winter air regularly. The same conditions affect cows’ teats.

Dry and cracked teats can easily harbor more bacteria and keep the teat sphincter from closing as quickly and completely as healthy teats. Winter dip formulations are high-emollient dips (usually 50% or greater in skin conditioners). These additional conditioners slow evaporation and thereby reduce the risk of teats freezing. They keep the teat bathed in a rich coating of skin conditioners that will replace the lost oils in the skin and provide protection for the teat.

So now about the expense. Yes, they are more costly than your traditionally used products, but are they more expensive? When it comes to the overall cost of teat damage and the related costs in mastitis, lost milk and possibly losing additional lactations of a cow, the money adds up quickly. This makes the “insurance policy” aspect of winter dips more desirable. To keep your costs in check, install a large thermometer outside of your milking areas. Determine the best temperature for your geographical location and the conditions at your facility to implement the “winter dip rules.” When that temperature is reached, use winter dips. When it goes back above that temp, go back to your traditional methods. The temperature fluctuates daily and with the proper program, your post-dip method can work as well to keep your costs in check.

What about quitting dipping/doing nothing else?

To quit dipping is a poor choice and one that is not the best for your cows. If you do not have a high- emollient dip, there are options. Use your traditional product to dip the cows and dab off the drip at the end of the teat or slow down releasing the cow back to the barns to allow the teat dip time to dry while they are in the warmer parlor area. Teats are still wet after milking from being bathed in milk in the liner. Do your best to get some kill and conditioners to them. A little bit of conditioners and kill on a dry teat is still better than no dip at all.

I have the proper dip. Now what?

It is not only the dip used in the winter that makes the difference. Make sure every aspect that can cause teat condition issues is addressed.

Is the equipment up to par? Many farms do their maintenance in the winter when the crops do not need attention. Be sure pulsation, vacuum, and take-off settings are all within National Mastitis Council guidelines for comfortable milk-out. Prepare the barn environment. Is the barn sealed up for the winter season? Is the ventilation sufficient but not enough to bring a wind chill? Are the beds all dry and cleaned often enough?

As I stated earlier, make sure you have a plan. Be sure the staff knows as to when to implement winter dipping rules and what products they are to use. Make it ready and easy to access for a seamless transition.

A final note, it’s important that your milkers are educated on the challenges associated with winter weather’s effect on teat tissue. Rough teat ends (hyperkeratosis) are more difficult to get clean. Milkers need to wipe teats in a downward, twisting motion on each teat, working from the farthest to the nearest. It’s important they also make a second wipe, applying pressure across teat ends to help remove excess keratin buildup that is ready to come off, and properly clean teat ends. Milkers should closely inspect teat ends to make sure they are clean before attaching the unit. Instill a “rub, no pick” policy when cleaning teat ends.

With these considerations in mind, continue keeping milk quality and udder health as top priorities despite the windchill factor.