Block Pneumonia, Teat Damage and Frostbite from the Barn

Published on Thu, 10/24/2019 - 3:04pm

 Block Pneumonia, Teat Damage and Frostbite from the Barn.

 By Bruce Derksen

 With colder temperatures and extreme weather conditions just around the corner, it’s important to take note of issues that affect dairy cows during this season.  Basic problems such as pneumonia, teat skin damage, mastitis and frostbite can lay claim to unprepared and ill cared for animals.

Pendulum like temperature swings of wet to cold and back to warm weather are perfect for pneumonias to strike a herd.  Dr. Meggan Hain, former staff veterinarian in Penn Vet’s Field Service, offered some advice on how to address and prevent pneumonia in dairy cows.

“While our instinct is to close everything up and batten down the hatches in winter, this can be significantly detrimental to air quality and cooling capacity.  Remember, these animals are wearing their winter coats,” said Dr. Hain.  Proper ventilation and air flow are vital to prevent stagnant areas.  She recommended that for older barns, forced air ventilation or fans should be considered and she endorsed having air flow and quality tests run on facilities under normal working conditions, including at floor level in all parts of the barn.

Another key to preventing pneumonia is using pneumonia specific vaccinations before early and late winter when disease challenges appear.  Hain said that while vaccinations add stress to the immune system and take time to provide their protection, when used cautiously, they are proactive and can help if an outbreak situation arises.  It is important to consult your veterinarian to arrange a plan that is both effective and practical.

Hain also emphasized that vaccines be handled and stored properly.  Never use expired, previously frozen or poorly mixed vaccines and always use clean properly functioning instruments.  Just like vaccines should be administered to healthy animals to be effective, they must also be in the proper state.

Cold harsh weather with low humidity provides optimal conditions perfect for chapping and damage to teat skin, along with hyperkeratosis.  Horizontal tearing in the teat skin, while painful, also allows mastitis flareups when organisms are able to enter the teat canal.  Healthy skin which is normally a very tough and pliable barrier against mastitis causing bacteria, is crucial to help fend off these intramammary infections.

Keith Engel, Dairy Farm Supplies, GEA Farm Technologies, Madison, Wisconsin said, “By addressing winter conditions before they arrive, dairy producers can minimize teat skin damage and the resulting loss of profitability from elevated SCC and clinical mastitis.”  He recommends increasing the amount of emollients in post-dip before winter to help precondition the teat skin, making it more flexible and ready for weather changes.  “Chlorine-dioxide teat dips which contain lactic acid have been very successful at exfoliating teat skin to slough off excess keratin, helping to reduce hyperkeratosis, making teat ends smoother.”

Related to teat skin chapping are potential frostbite issues.  For dairy cows exposed to freezing temperatures or high windchills in open areas or un-heated facilities, frostbite can be a serious threat.  Barely freezing temperatures with less than 40 mph winds can cause teat damage and even with no wind, frostbite can occur at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mastitis organisms can enter through reddened and superficial skin cracks and in more serious cases, irreversible necrotic damage to the skin and circulatory system of the teat can occur.

For all health conditions, it is important to be proactive and prepared for the season ahead.  Workers should be trained to always be watchful for potential illness so disease can be caught early.  When pneumonia cases are found, it is good practice to isolate the sick animals to prevent the spread.  Operators should also be educated on the proper way to handle teats in colder weather.  Wiping in a downward and twisting motion with a clean towel, paying special attention to the teat ends, applying pressure to ensure any trapped soil or debris is removed before milking units are attached is extremely important.  Avoid picking at teat ends as this can cause bleeding which invites infection.

Severe winter conditions can test the health of dairy cows and compromise teat skin with low humidity and frostbite challenges but using proper management practices in barn ventilation and vaccinations, along with teat care and adequate shelter to fend off frostbite, can be the defence needed to overcome these trials.