Teat condition tells a story about milking management, equipment & more
You can obtain a great deal of information about your herd based on teat appearance. Teat condition is critical to assessing the effects of milking management, equipment and other environmental impacts on the skin.
By Keith Engel
Changes to teat tissue can greatly impact the risk of new mastitis infections in a herd. Teat sores and cracks provide the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply. Healthy teat skin, on the other hand, is easier to keep clean and provides a natural barrier against bacteria.
The following information from the National Mastitis Council and the Teat Health Committee can be used to understand teat conditions.
• Teat color changes. Some teats are noticeably red, at the teat-end or over the entire teat, when the milking unit is removed. Others may become reddened within 30 to 60 seconds after unit removal. In extreme cases, teats become blue or already appear blue when the unit is removed. Color changes are exacerbated by over-milking, improper vacuum or pulsation levels or use of a liner that doesn’t fit the herd. In general, poor massage is the likely cause of teat color changes.
• Swelling at teat base. After milking, the upper part of the teat may have a visible line or mark caused by contact with the liner mouthpiece lip or visible swelling (with a thickened ring) in the unsupported area that was inside the liner mouthpiece chamber near the end of milking. Factors responsible for swelling include high mouthpiece vacuum, over-milking or a liner that is not properly matched for the herd. The depth of the liner is critical, and relates to how effectively the liner can massage the herd’s average teat length.
• Hardness/firmness at the teat-end. Many teats feel soft and pliable after milking, and they contract when touched. However, some teats feel swollen or firm or, in extreme cases, hard and unresponsive to touch. Teat-end swelling is usually the result of extremely high vacuum, over-milking or pulsation failure. Also, teats can often look flat or “wedge-shaped” after milking. “Wedging” describes the slightly flattened shape of the teat-end due to the compressive load applied by the walls of a collapsed liner. Severe wedging results from hard liners, liners mounted under high tension or failure of the liners to open fully.
4) Openness of teat orifice. When examined immediately after milking, the external teat orifice may appear to be closed, slightly open or, in extreme cases, with a funnel-shaped opening about the size of a match-head. Causes include high vacuum, over-milking, liner mouthpiece design or an unusually heavy milking unit.
• Teat skin condition. Healthy teat skin is coated with a protective mantel of fatty acids, which retard the growth of bacterial pathogens. When exposed to cold, wet and windy conditions, the skin of machine-milked teats often becomes scaly or chapped, and the protective surface coating may be removed. Cold, wet or muddy conditions induce hardening or thickening of teat skin. Mud, as it dries, draws moisture from the skin, with a consequent loss of skin elasticity. Chemical irritation associated with disinfectants may exacerbate the effects of harsh weather conditions and promote teat chapping. Skin conditioners can maintain or improve teat condition.
• Hemorrhages (vascular damage). Serious milking-induced damage can occur when blood vessels have ruptured and blood pools under the skin, appearing as small red spots or larger, more obvious bleeding under the skin. Vascular damage usually reflects pulsation failure. Incidence is lower in herds milked at low vacuum and/or with automatic detachers.
• Hyperkeratosis. Hyperkeratosis is the protrusion of the keratin that lines the teat canal and appears in a ring around the teat-end. Besides weather, major factors affecting teat-end hyperkeratosis include teat-end shape, production level and stage of lactation, and interactions between milking management and machine factors; especially slow milking and over-milking. Hyperkeratosis can be exacerbated by high milking vacuum (too much teat compression during the massage phase), improper automatic take-off settings or poor stimulation time.
Another tool: Teat scoring
In addition to regular milking system checks and milking procedure evaluations, teat scoring can support suggested management practice changes, or identify any teat condition problems. If there’s been a big change in milk production per cow, it’s a good idea to evaluate automatic take-off settings.
Score teat condition at least quarterly, hitting all four seasons to account for any weather impact. Record the average days in milk and production level at the time, for the herd or individual groups. Record the somatic cell count of the herd and the percent of clinical mastitis at the time, so you can assess milk quality levels with different teat-end conditions.
Smaller herds should randomly score 75% of the herd. Larger herds should score a high-production, first-lactation group and a high-production mature group. Make sure to score the same pen each time, so benchmarks and herd trends provide reliable data.
• Keith Engel is a consultant with GEA Farm Technologies who specializes in milk quality and milk harvest. Contact him via phone: 630-640-3665 or email: email@example.com.