Dipping In Cold Weather

With the recent cold and wet weather in some areas of the world, J.W.Schroeder, Dairy Specialist with North Dakota State University offers advice on protecting cows' udders.
calendar icon 25 January 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

While hearty northerners might take a polar plunge (dip) during the holidays, dairy producers should take special precautions when preparing the udders of lactating dairy cattle exposed to wet conditions during milking.

Preparing the cow for milking requires cleaning and dipping of the teat. A major area of concern for many producers is teat disinfection when the weather gets cold. Questions regarding whether teat dipping should be continued, along with an influx of new products and technologies, have created uncertainties about the best practices and principles.

Providing a single answer is difficult because many variables (housing design, weather, degree of teat exposure, etc.) must be considered. The following are answers to some of the common questions:

  • Use the same good germicidal skin conditioning dip you’ve been using. Most days, the weather is not cold enough to freeze the drop on the teat end. In situations of cold wind chills and/or direct exposure of teats post-milking, dab or wick the drop off the end with a towel. This takes very little time and effort. Do not dry the teat because that removes the dip/skin conditioners from the teat. Never add extra conditioners to the dip.

  • Barrier dips are not recommended in very cold weather and direct wind chill exposure situations post-milking because they may take 20 or more minutes to dry, thus increasing risks for teat end problems.

  • Winter formulation dips and high-emollient and/or powder dips are designed to be used only during cold weather and high-risk situations in which teats will freeze or dehydrate quickly (like your fingers cracking). They may cost two to three times your regular dip, but evaluate potential returns, not just investment, when deciding whether to use them.

  • High-emollient dips (usually more than 50 per cent skin conditioners) minimise initial freezing risk post-milking due to slow evaporation. They have shown some benefit in controlled studies. Make sure the germicide is proven to work. Teats may stay wetter and oily longer, which may increase risks involved with prolonged cold exposure or dirty environmental conditions (sticky teats).

  • Powder-based dips are designed to keep teats dry (no liquid). New formulations have germicide and skin conditioners. Stalls, etc., must be clean and dry to avoid wicking on teats.

  • Salves are not the best choice. They pose high risks because they result in greasy hands, greasy teats and greasy equipment and are an easy way to spread problems. They can coat or trap infections and attract substances such as dirt. Research shows minimal or no effect, or in some cases detrimental effects, when more fluid salves are used. If you decide to use a salve, use it sparingly and only on the risky area – the teat end.

  • Quitting dipping and doing nothing else is a poor choice or not even a choice. In fact, it’s a high risk. Teats still are wet after milking and teat skin conditioners are milked off, which leads to increased dehydration and cracking risks. Plus, you won’t have a germicide for contagious mastitis pathogens.

It’s a sure thing that winter will come, a sure thing that teat end problems will occur, and a sure thing that the best way to deal with it is manage the risks. Weigh the options and pick the one that you can manage the best. Couple this with other management strategies, such as minimising direct wind exposure post-milking, providing clean dry stalls to prevent chilling and organism growth, and following proper milking procedures, that minimise teat stressors.

January 2010

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