Wanted: Good gatekeepers
Keeping the udder gates well-defended against intruders.
Imagine a medieval city surrounded by thick, high walls to protect it from marauding bands of bad guys. Often the walls would have space on top for defenders of the city to be positioned with defensive weapons including arrows, spears, rocks and hot oil (if those childhood stories were correct!).
Every such city had gateways for people and goods to be transported in or out on a regular basis. Such gateways were often the weakest points. And unless the gateways were heavily defended, the enemy could exploit the weakness and gain entry to the city in spite of the thick, high walls.
But this isn’t story time, this is an illustration of what we face with every cow at every milking. The teat end is the gateway into the udder, standing against bacteria that are seemingly everywhere. Michigan State University Extension notes that the environmental pathogens that can cause mastitis are commonly found in stall beds, in manure and urine splashed up against legs, even on the hands of milkers in the parlor. Milkers need to understand the important role they have as gatekeepers in reducing the number of bacteria standing at the gateway.
Dairy farms have made a lot of progress in prepping teats for milking. Based on a Michigan State University survey of farms in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, most milkers, 86 percent of farms, are using a pre-dip sanitizer to clean the teats.
Recently, I have watched milkers prepare cows for milking at several farms. While there is variation between farms and even between workers at the same farm, most do a good job of cleaning and sanitizing the barrel of the teat. Yet, very few do a thorough job of cleaning the teat end. That is like strengthening the walls of the city, and neglecting the gate.
The milkers must specifically wipe across the teat ends to clean them. Assuming that dip alone will clean the teat ends is like assuming that swishing your mouth with water will clean your teeth – no brushing needed! But in reality, physical friction is necessary to completely clean the surface. This should occur twice in the routine; once with the thumb after the teat dip has been applied, and the second time when drying the teats.
When teat ends are properly cleaned, an alcohol pad wiped across the teat end will stay white. If the pad is dirty, then the teat end was not sufficiently cleaned and bacteria likely are being harbored at the teat end.
Involve your employees in this check of teat end cleanliness. After a group of cows are prepped for milking, use an alcohol pad for each teat of each cow (or the four corners of a larger alcohol pad) and check the results. The goal should be to find more than 80 percent of teat ends clean.
Show the wipes to your employees. Encourage them to check themselves and have unannounced swab tests. Employees will take it seriously when they see that you take it seriously.
Teat end cleanliness will be easier when udders are cleaner. Udder hygiene is related to frequency of alley scraping, density of cows in the barn, gentleness of cow movement, degree to which the beds are clean and dry and the degree of teat end roughness. Teat end cleanliness is not just a product of the milkers in the parlor, it also relates to the work done in the barns.
Recognize and adjust to the times when environmental pathogen pressure is increased. Hot and humid weather will cause populations to explode. Improve or increase the frequency of practices that keep cows clean during these times to reduce exposure to pathogens. Remind milkers about teat end cleaning and
monitor new infection rate to relate environmental conditions to mastitis.
Failure to clean teat ends means that the gateway to the udder is poorly defended and that the cow will be vulnerable to infection. What we need in the parlor are good gatekeepers who strengthen the defenses where the cow is most vulnerable.