Good teat health can go a long way when it comes to managing milk quality and avoiding costly mastitis cases. Hannah Park reports.
There are a whole host of issues which come under the banner of teat health, but ensuring preventative measures are in place to reduce the likelihood of udder infections occurring is considered the best approach.
Rachel Hayton, vet at Synergy Farm Health, Somerset, says: “Keeping an eye on teat skin condition and particularly teat ends is vital, as this area can provide the perfect environment for bacteria to become established which can then lead to disease.
“Some of these teat problems are associated with improper milking machine function, including teat congestion and oedema which can be seen at cluster removal.
“A more chronic condition associated with improper milking machine function is hyperkeratosis caused by a build-up of keratin around the teat opening leading to a roughened surface. The risk of disease rises as the teat becomes more severely roughened.”
Other causes of teat skin diseases may be brought on by external factors such as the weather, fly burden or the use of some teat dips which can lead to dry skin and cracking.
Teat warts are also commonly seen, particularly on newly calved heifers, and can cause issues with milking out in particularly serious cases.
Blackspot is an infection as a result of tissue damage around the end of the teat and causes them to become ulcerated.
It can be caused by poor teat conformation but if the problem is found across more than one or two animals in the herd, parlour function should be checked as lack of pulsation, too much vacuum or over milking could be a cause.
Warts are more commonly seen in herds now that it is common practice to calve heifers at two-years-old, whereas animals might have naturally grown out of these in the past.
Mrs Hayton says: “Teat warts will eventually resolve, but become an issue if they prevent milking out or harbour bacteria.
“In severe cases, a vaccine can be made by collecting wart material and turning it into a vaccine to treat animals which will allow those affected to get rid of them much more quickly than they would naturally.”
This is a newly recognised condition which causes animals to bite their own teats off due to intense irritation.
It typically affects heifers or animals in early lactation, but the definitive cause is not determined. “There is no effective treatment other than preventing the animal carrying out self-trauma and homemade collars have been used with some success," Mrs Hayton adds.
Many teat conditions can be caused or worsened by parlour function issues. Units come into contact with cows every day and can easily provide a platform for infection if not properly maintained, especially as parlours are becoming increasingly technically advanced.
Mrs Hayton says: “Issues such as vacuum level and pulsation failures can be a nuisance in the short-term, causing a slow milking speed and cow discomfort, but in the long term can contribute to the spread of mastitis and damage to teats which can lead to infection like blackspot. Heifers can sometimes suffer if their short teats are not suited to the liners in use on the farm.”
She adds regular servicing, including a dynamic test, to make sure the parlour is functioning correctly is essential and will keep it working correctly to avoid these problems.
“Simple observations made during milking can also highlight problems that may need to be rectified.”
“Weather can cause issues, and in the main problems usually occur as a result of fly burden or sun damage.
Mrs Hayton says: “This summer, flies have contributed to the spread of summer mastitis in dry cows and certain farms have suffered more than others.
“Sometimes heifers calving for the first time will come in with blind quarters, typically caused by summer mastitis which has not been picked up beforehand. But the problem can affect any animal in the herd.
“Preventing the problem before it has chance to occur is the best approach, usually using internal teat sealant at drying off and pour-on insecticide treatments.”
“Sunburn is another issue and although unusual, can be serious particularly when caused by photosensitisation brought on by eating plants such as St John’s Wort.”
Many farmers use pre and post dipping solutions to prepare teats for milking and for protection after the unit is removed.
Mrs Hayton says a pre-dip needs to enable teat cleaning and also be fast-acting, with the ability to kill mastitis-causing pathogens in under 30 seconds.
By contrast, a post dip needs a more prolonged antibacterial action, and often contains an emollient to improve teat skin condition.
“So it follows that the same product is unlikely to be suitable for both jobs and in most cases separate pre and post dips would be recommended.
“Irritant post dips, or those without enough emollient can cause teats to become dry and chapped which could cause lasting teat damage or attract other bacteria leading to infection.”