Cow Udders 101: How to Care for Them and Keep Your Cow Healthy

Posted by Allie Layos
Cow Udders

Cows may seem hardy, but their udders aren't. In fact, udder care is an important part of caring for your herd of cows. Just like you may focus on weight management and diet for your cows, udder care can also affect your cow's comfort, quality of life, and milk production.

Caring for cow udders may seem simple, but from diseases and infection to injury, there are multiple things that can go wrong with them. If you want to keep your cow milking at her best, it is important to take proper precautions to protect her udders.

Understanding the Importance of Udder Health

Improved udder health will result in increased milk production. The udder consists of four quarters or mammary glands. Each quarter is a separate milk-secreting unit and possesses its own teat through which milk is drained from the udder. The conformation of teats and their traits will influence the reproduction status of dairy cows. And common teat sizes will also impact overall production.

Understanding the BIF Udder Suspension Score for cattle is important too! This is based on udder soundness, and teat and udder quality.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to keep your cow healthy, happy and turning out great milk.

Udder Care: Keep the Udders Clean

Before you begin milking your cow, it is important to clean her udders. The easiest way is to simply use running water, but you can also use iodine or another disinfectant. Once they are clean, dry the teats with a paper towel rather than a regular towel, as re-using towels can spread contamination.

If you are hand milking, make sure to wash and disinfect your hands before you begin. If you're using a milking machine instead, dip each teat in disinfectant and dry them completely before you attach the machine. Disinfect them again when it is removed.

Blocked teats are also a big issue. You want to treat this with ointment and unblock these immediately.

Udder and teat lesions require immediate attention! On average, a cow produces six to seven gallons of milk each day.

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Preventing and Caring for Injuries

A cow's udders are large and awkward, and it is easy for them to get injured. Sometimes cows injure them on milking machines, or even by bruising or scraping them with their own feet. You can minimize this risk by keeping your cow's hooves and dewclaws trimmed, and bedding plentiful and clean. Sand, shavings, or even dried manure can make good bedding.

If your cow does scrape or scratch her udders, treat even the smallest wound by blotting it with a cotton pad, and treat larger ones with pain-relieving ointment before covering them with medical tape. For larger injuries also consult your veterinarian to see if the wound needs more than just bandaging.

Vitamin E plays a major role in animal health, and its outstanding effect on the immune system may be able to help the prevention of mastitis in dairy cows. This vitamin directly impacts udder quality. Vitamin E is a powerful health promoter for dairy cows and is essential for optimum functioning of many biological systems in animals. It has important functions in the muscular, nervous, circulatory, reproductive and immune system. It plays a fundamental role in udder health!

Photosensitivity is also a concern. There are certain poisonous plants which, when eaten, cause animals to be very sensitive to light. Areas exposed to the sun, that are affected especially where the hair cover is sparse. This can affect the udder.


Concerns About Udder Health

Keep an eye out for redness or swelling on the udder, sensitivity when the udder is touched or when milking, dehydration, diarrhea, and loss of appetite-- all of which can be signs of mastitis.

According to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine,

"The treatment protocol we use on dairy farms tries to distinguish between the cow that is systemically ill that would benefit from fluids and anti-inflammatories (coliforms), from the cow that has clinical mastitis but is not systemically ill. Cows with hard udders accompanied by watery secretions generally have coliform infections. Our treatment protocol can be used with or without the antibiotics. Some farms want to treat every case of mastitis with some form of antibiotics, and some farms do not want to treat any cases of mastitis with antibiotics because of the possible antibiotic residue problems."

Another condition, udder scald, is a skin infection caused when the udder rubs against the upper thigh. Udder scald can be spotted by a moist rash and distinct, rank smell.

Both conditions can affect the cow's milk production, so you should contact your veterinarian at the first sign of either condition.

A guide to udder health would benefit any first-time dairy cow farmer. Another resource includes The Irish Veterinary Journal. This journal talks about Johne's disease (JD), chronic granulomatous enteritis affecting ruminants. A number of farm management practices are associated with increased risk of JD transmission. In order to have profitable cows, you need to know about all the possible health concerns.

The bottom line is if you own farm animals, you need to understand the anatomy and physiology of farm animals!

If you care for your cow's udders properly, you will enjoy lots of good milk and a healthy, happy cow.

Have you ever treated an udder problem? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Cow Udders 101: How to Care for Them and Keep Your Cow Healthy