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Now is a good time to check udders of cows and bred heifers

Beef 911: Paying attention to teat and udder conformation greatly reduces the odds of having a cow with mastitis

Now is a good time to check udders of cows and bred heifers

Before calving is a good time for scrutinizing the udders of cows and bred heifers.

Occasionally chronic infected quarters (probably emanating from the year previous) are highly visible as large swollen quarters compared to the other three. They will often flare up a few weeks before calving as the colostrum is being formed.

Usually the cow is not sick but even if it is, I will go over treatment and the potential to dry up that quarter. The cow, depending on how she does together with teat conformation, may or may not be culled then or at weaning time. You have options.

My experience tells me that the majority of mastitis occurs in older cows with larger, poor conformation teats and those in which calves have a hard time milking out all the time. The larger producers may even leak milk when nursing and, again, this leads to mastitis problems.

Producers who pay attention to teat and udder conformation rarely encounter a cow with mastitis. We see a much higher incidence on the trader-type cows that go through the auction markets in open cow sales. One large teat indicates there has been milk retention the previous calving season and these cows have a good possibility of having problems in subsequent years.

Producers may calve these cows out with the goal of stealing their calf and grafting it onto a cow that has lost her calf. Just to be sure I like to strip these big-teated cows out to make sure the test canal is patent and that there is no mastitic milk present.

You will find blind teats which will eventually dry up and shrivel up — which is not a bad thing. It has been found that three-teated cows have some compensatory increase in production, so they may not produce that much less milk than a four-teated one. So there might not be a reason to cull unless the other teat conformation is bad.

The Angus association has a teat and udder scoring system which everyone should look at when selecting bred cattle. I say bred as yearling heifers become very difficult to select this way, but those with obviously too large a teat size may be removed.

I would hazard a guess many other criteria are looked at first during yearling heifer selection. Cows with good udders on average should raise heifers with good udders so look at the mothers.

If I find a chronic mastitis, I do what I would do with dairy cattle and treat the cow with recommended antimicrobials and NSAIDs. A one-time treatment dry cow intramammary preparation is often recommended. Check with your veterinarian to see what their exact recommendations are.

In severe cases, I have seen the entire quarter slough off but the cow go on to do OK and be salvageable. Ideally, we don’t want the infected milk leaking and contaminating the area. These may take a long time to heal over and it is best that the cow is treated, dried up and shipped when drug withdrawals are met.

If a cow is producing well, you may want to try and chemically dry up the infected quarter. This is difficult as the other three quarters are trying to produce milk. If you don’t notice the badly infected quarter until fall when weaning, that is an ideal time as the cow is naturally drying off.

The goal is simply to essentially create a chemical mastitis in the infected quarter. You need to strip out the infected milk as much as possible and then infuse the recommended solution (common products are a copper sulphate or silver nitrate solution) into the udder and leave it there. This is often stripped out again in seven to 10 days and the procedure repeated.

The end result next calving would be a fully functional three-teated cow. But I would only recommend this for valuable breeding stock on a high-end cow in the herd. Keep in mind treatments will have various slaughter withdrawals, and the concentration and volumes used of the chemicals will vary between veterinarians so closely follow their recommendations. The udder will swell and get sore on that quarter as you are causing the chemical mastitis.

I have done fewer and fewer of these treatments as producers have selected better and purebred breeders of all the breeds have paid close attention to teat and udder conformation.

However, it happens from time to time and at least you may have a game plan if it happens in your herd. Many early cases of this can be detected if stripping out the teats at calving or if you notice a swollen quarter in the herd at any time.

Happy calving 2020 everyone.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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