The use of reusable cloths as part of the pre-milking routine is growing, but experts say while there are advantages, strict protocols for their use should be in place. Hannah Noble reports.
The use of reusable udder cloths can radically reduce the waste created from using paper towels. However, James Breen, practising vet and lecturer at Nottingham University veterinary school, says the cost benefit of less waste paper versus more electricity and water should be calculated on an economic and environmental basis.
Dr Breen says anecdotally the physical job of cleaning the teats effectively is often made easier by the use of a cloth rather than a paper towel.
“However, reusable cloths pose a higher risk of spreading infection between cows. They should only be used on a one cloth per cow basis and washed effectively after each use,” he adds.
Protocols should be drawn up to ensure washing and use of towels is carried out correctly to avoid inadequate washing, build-up of bacteria and ultimately transfer of infection between cows.
Before making the decision to swap to cloths, it is important you are able to adequately wash them after each milking.
Dr Breen says many farmers choosing to use udder cloths have invested in high capacity commercial washing machines on service contracts which are able to take large loads of washing and are capable of running at the high temperatures required.
He says washing cloths at 90degC is a must to ensure bacteria residing on them are killed and many washing machines are unable to carry out washes at such high temperatures. An effective detergent should also be used and this can be paired with a disinfectant such as peracetic acid or hypochlorite.
Dr Breen says: “Be mindful of how full you are filling the machine, you cannot pack it otherwise it will not wash effectively and it may be that the set of cloths has to be split over several washes.”
The number of sets of cloths required depends on how many cows are being milked, how long milking takes and the washing cycle and capacity.
Dr Breen says: “I know some farmers who use just one set of cloths but it depends on how quickly you can turn them around. I think it is probably easier to have a set of cloths for each milking, particularly for large herds milking three times a day.”
Although there is no definitive answer on how long cloths should be used for before being replaced, Dr Breen advises carrying out quality control measures at regular intervals to monitor the cleanliness of washed cloths. This also allows the efficacy of the wash cycle to be gauged.
He says at least once or twice a year a sample cloth should be sent away for analysis at an independent laboratory to provide a measure of their total bacterial count and coliform bacterial count. He says if cloths are effectively being washed at 90degC the coliform count should arguably be zero.
Dr Breen says the information should be used to decide whether a new batch of cloths is required and advises replacing the whole batch of cloths at once rather than on an individual basis.
“There needs to be some structure and protocol in place. Write down when a new pack of cloths is opened so you can keep an idea of how long they have been used for and ensure you change the whole batch in one go on a regular basis before they deteriorate.”
The water used by the washing machine should also be considered and Dr Breen says the water should be of drinking quality containing a very low bacterial count.
“Water you are using in and around the dairy and washing the cloths with ought to be mains water unless you can demonstrate the quality for the non mains water is very high.”
After being washed, Dr Breen says it is adequate for them to be spun dry before storing in a clean receptacle preferably with a lid. He says there is no need to soak them in peracetic acid or disinfectant before use.
He says: “Soaking the cloths means in effect they become medicated towels which is not the same thing as applying teat disinfectant, waiting 30 seconds and wiping it off with a clean cloth. Flashing a towel soaked in disinfectant round the teat for a couple of seconds is not enough.”