Teat preparation

A variety of measures are used by dairy farmers when preparing the cow's teats for milking, ranging from practically nothing to time-consuming methods and devices that can make a significant difference to milking times and enterprise costs.

Any pre-milking teat preparations aim to remove bacteria and other contaminants, particularly the pathogens which can cause environmental mastitis such as coliform bacteria and Streptococcus uberis, and therefore aiming to control Somatic Cell Counts (SCCs). Additionally, the removal of contamination helps to control Bactoscan and overall milk quality.

The optimal routine is likely to be influenced by other factors such as labour availability and will vary from farm-to-farm. The issue with adopting pre-milking teat preparation is allowing it to be fitted within the lag-time period of around 60 seconds before attaching the cluster unit, which allows for the most efficient milking of the cow. Several key points include:

  • Where cattle are out at pasture or are kept particularly clean at housing, simple dry wiping with a gloved hand or clean dry paper towel may be deemed all that is necessary to prepare the teats for milking. Even so, it is important to keep gloves clean and to use a separate towel for each cow.
  • Most herds, when housed, make an attempt to remove muck and contaminants from teats, either by washing the teats, using disposable disinfectant wipes and/or using a pre-dip or spray.
  • Teat washing (and udder washing, should the udder be particularly soiled) is most effective when done via a drop hose, or by a low-volume sprayer system, with an added sanitising chemical and using a gloved hand to remove any soiling and contamination. Any water used for washing should be of drinkable quality. The use of a bucket with an udder cloth is not particularly recommended, as the disinfectant or sanitiser will become contaminated with organic matter and quickly lose its efficacy.
  • Teat washing, done without care, can actually contribute to bacterial contamination of the teat canal due to pathogens present in the water being carried from higher up the teat towards the teat orifice. Washing can remove any natural oils present on the teat, contributing to the drying of teat skin, which in turn may cause skin damage or cracking where bacteria can easily colonise.
  • Where teats are washed they must be dried, in order to avoid bacterial contamination entering the teat orifice and the possibility of liner slip. The preferred method is to use individual towels, one per cow and washed and dried after each milking, but the use of clean paper towels is adequate.
  • Disposable disinfectant wipes are a popular means of cleaning and disinfecting the teats before milking; they dry quickly through evaporation and used one per cow limit cross contamination from cow-to-cow, and because the milkers hands are in contact with them they can contribute to keeping gloves clean and disinfected.
  • Mechanised washing and drying have been introduced in recent years, consisting of a hand-held device containing rotating brushes fed with water and sanitiser that can wash the teats then remove excess water allowing them to dry quickly. These systems are said to be highly effective at reducing environmental bacterial on cows' teats pre-milking, but are expensive to install and are not suitable for all milking systems.
  • Pre-dips and sprays tend to be formulated differently to post-dip treatments - as they have to perform differing functions, although the types of chemicals used for pre-milking treatments are generally the same as those used for post-milking treatments. The liquids, foams and gels available as pre-milking disinfectants are designed to kill pathogens quickly, whereas post-milking treatments have a persistent effect.
  • The manufacturers of these treatments will specify a time period, usually a few seconds, in which the dip or spray has to remain on the teat before it is wiped off. Warming the pre-dip solution before application may further help to stimulate milk let-down.

Routinely clipping cows' tails and udder clipping and singeing are particularly good ways of improving the hygiene standard of the herd, particularly in ensuring cows come into the parlour requiring the minimum of washing and wiping before they can be milked. These practices may also help to reduce the potential of mastitis caused by environmental pathogens.

Related Links & Publications