The author is a partner in Maria Stein Animal Clinic, Maria Stein, Ohio.

Prevent winter teat damage before it occurs with the right teat dip, properly working equipment and protection from the elements.

Stan and I settled into a comfortable routine flipping burgers and turning bratwurst at a local concession stand. Sometimes, we worked the popcorn machine, or trash detail, or the front counter, all key to customer satisfaction. We would work wherever assigned but preferred the grill where conversation about farming always happened.

Our conversation this time steered toward winter and how we hoped this one was more kind than last. Stan mentioned that, besides the drudgery, it had been especially financially punishing as he lost several cows. He had an older setup, where cows exit the parlor to outside bunks before journeying to the freestall barn. Many cows had frostbitten teats, which are hard to treat in any situation, but with Stan's marketing agreement, his treatment options were even more limited. Like most things, prevention is the only realistic option.

Select the right dip
We had a "grilling" consultation session. We first started with a discussion of teat dips. Every dairy has a different temperature where alternative teat dips need to be considered based on wind chill and perhaps bedding material. Somewhere between 0°F and 20°F is when changes are usually made.

Fresh heifers with significant swelling and cows with pendulous udders not protected by their legs while lying are most susceptible to frostbite. So, the fresh group is the first and maybe only group to switch to cold weather dips. Cold weather dips have been designed with very high emollient levels, keeping the skin surface in better health. Some have carriers that do not freeze until the temperature is much lower than where water freezes.

There are also powdered dips that do not freeze. Their bactericidal properties may not be as great as their liquid counterparts, but they may have a place in your strategy. We know that not dipping results in more mastitis cases, but frostbite leads to devastating losses.

Block the winter wind
Shelter greatly reduces teat damage. Windbreaks cost no more than the amount lost from a few damaged cows but last for years. Sometimes, we are stopped from building these structures because we can't envision how to construct them on a farm where we've worked our whole life. An outside opinion can open possibilities.

As a veterinarian who consults on building design, I've become very used to having my ideas rejected. The real objective is to have the dairyman consider options and make decisions, not blindly copy something or be creative in ways detrimental to themselves and their cattle. In general, roofs and windbreaks make cold weather much more tolerable for people and livestock.

Bedding can play a significant role in insulating teats from the cold. The first order of business is to not have holes in freestall beds that fill with liquids, redipping teats. Extreme conditions may even call for organic bedding, remembering that straw has the most insulating properties. Adding bedding more frequently during extremely cold weather may be just one more task that is added to the operation of your dairy.

Stop the damage now
Two other problem areas for teats are hyperkeratosis and stepped-on teats. Hyperkeratosis of teat ends negatively impacts the defenses of teat ends to ward off mastitis. The details of milking technique, machine function such as claw and mouthpiece vacuum, and liner selection are all part of maintaining healthy teat ends. Higher emollient dips can also help to exfoliate hyperkeratotic teat ends. Some dairies rotate high emollient dips into use on a regular basis to minimize teat end damage.

Stepped-on teats are another issue that seems to get worse in winter. Stan mentioned that some of his teat problems were not frostbite but injuries due to stepped-on teats, and dilators just seemed to make things worse. I told him that we stopped using dilators decades ago and prefer a small cut of the spincter after a few days if we feel we have to.

Once again, prevention is the key. Stan asked, "How do you prevent stepped-on teats?" The answer is simple; achieving it takes a little more work. To prevent stepped-on teats, freestall cows need lunge space and traction when rising, and loose-housed cows need to not be overcrowded. Stan said, "I can do sand for traction and bed with straw when it is really cold, but how do I create lunge space in my old freestall barn where stalls are up against the outside wall?"

I showed him pictures on my phone of how we have "doghoused" many barns, creating a two-foot lunge space to the outside of the barn. This involves setting another row of posts two feet out from the barn and installing a four-foot roof from the end of the barn or the middle board of the side curtain. We then put a curtain on the new wall that can be closed during rough weather.

We first modified a barn like this 20 years ago, and the cows responded like it was a new barn. In the end, that's what Stan and I want: another satisfied customer, whether it's cows or burger-buying fans.

This article appears on page 26 of the January 10, 2015 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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