Milk quality is a marathon and not a sprint. I say this because while milk quality problems can crop up seemingly overnight, it often takes months and even years of attention to minute details to achieve excellence. Teat end health is a critical part of that marathon. Poor teat ends can trap dirt near the entrance to the teat, making it very hard for milking technicians to clean teats properly. Poor teat ends increase the number of bacteria on the teat end when units are attached. Additionally, many teat dips have trouble penetrating the small cracks and fissures of the rough teat end (keratin), further increasing the bacteria present that could cause new infections during any milking shift. Rough teat ends are defined as “a raised ring that is rough or cracked giving it a flowered like appearance.” This raised and cracked ring is made up of a substance called keratin, which is a protein produced by the teat canal (it is the same protein found in hair or calluses). In normal healthy teats, low amounts of this keratin are produced. However, as teats become damaged, the rate of keratin production is increased in response to injury.
Many factors influence the teat end health of a herd - including the milking equipment settings and function, size and shape of teats, and time of year or weather. Typically teat ends are in the best condition in fresh cows and during the warm months of the year. Higher milking flow rates and shorter milking unit attach durations also have positive effects on the condition of teats. Lastly, heifers and young cows are more likely to have less rough or very rough teat ends.
Rough teat ends often are the result of over-milking cows. This can be caused by inadequate prep with inconsistent milk letdown (especially in heifers), and by milking unit detachers programmed to milk cows very dry. High milk flows will shear keratin protein from the teat canal as the milk leaves the udder. But when this flow slows the teat undergoes damage and no keratin is removed. The lack of flow allows the keratin to build-up.
As we get set to enter the cooler fall months, it is a great time to check the health of the teats in your herd. Scoring teats across groups or pens of cows before entering the extreme challenge of cold weather is typically the best way to evaluate the teat end health of a herd. Take a few minutes and look at teats on key groups of cows including fresh groups, mid lactation heifers and cows treated for mastitis in order to see if your herd could benefit from taking action before winter weather sets in. Drs. Franks and Treichler have a great deal of experience in teat health. They are available to assist you with the evaluation of teat ends, as well as designing a plan to improve the teat condition before the cold weather hits - chapping both hands and teats alike.