Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Udder Prep and Milking Routine for My Dexters

Last fall I posted my udder prep and milking routine.  Then in February of this year as I was drying off Siobhan, she ended up with Staph A mastitis in one quarter.  My vet felt that her self-sucking on that quarter probably caused it, but he recommended that I change my milking routine to include use of an iodine pre- and post-dip.  I followed his advice.

The more I read and asked questions, especially on Keeping a Family Cow forum, the more I became convinced of several things:
  • Water does not belong on an udder (except in very limited situations).
  • Iodine (non-foaming) teat dip is the best.
  • Pre-dipping is most important, with post-dipping a close second.
Using this udder prep and milking routine since early this year, we have 100% clean milk tests--two on Siobhan and one on Ebony.  Since we had to travel a lot this summer, once the calves could handle all the milk this spring, I let both the cows just be mothers with only occasional milking.  Now it's time to wean Ebony's calf, Tiggy, so I'm milking Ebby OAD (once a day) in order to monitor her before I dry her off.  Here, then, is our routine . . .

Bring the cow to the milking parlor and tie her outside.  This gives her a chance to poop and pee before she gets into the stanchion.

Now is a good time to brush the cow.  This is a bonding time and establishes a routine that prepares her to let down.

Most importantly, check her udder and clean off any hay, mud, manure, etc.  (Ebby is normally a clean cow and doesn't usually lay in her manure, but like many Dexters she does have a hairy udder, so cleaning removes anything that could fall into the milk.)  In the milking parlor I keep a gallon plastic ziplock bag full of sanitized cloths, and I grab one to thoroughly wipe off her udder.

Let the cow into the stanchion (lead her or let her walk in) and close the neck catch.

(Ebby was upset at being separated from Tiggy for 15 hours, her udder was quite full, and Tiggy was bawling her head off nearby (but out of sight) in the round pen.  So this was not Ebby's happiest time in the stanchion, but it was when I had a photographer available so we went for it.)

Thanks to Kara for the great photos!

Set the covered milk bucket somewhere safe.

I use a shelf because it's out of the reach of pee and poop splatters and can't get knocked over by accident.

Optional:  Apply mint udder balm if needed.  I used this for Ebby because she was so full and uncomfortable.  It's also great for newly-freshened cows with edema.   Massage the mint balm into the udder, but keep it off the teats because some cows don't like the sensation on the bare teat.

Have the iodine teat dip (this is Teat-Kote 10/III from Hamby Dairy Supply) in separate cups for pre- and post-dip.

(I bought this style because they fit easily under short cattle, but I don't like how they drip.  I would like to replace them with these, but they don't come in multiple colors.  So I guess I'll put up with the drips!)

Take the GREEN cup for GO, and squeeze some into the reservoir.

Dip each teat by pushing the cup up until the dip completely surrounds the teat.

When the last teat is dipped, you can dump the extra dip on one of the cow's hooves.  This can eliminate any possibly contaminated dip and is good for the hooves.

After the last teat is dipped, count at least 30 seconds.  This is the minimum time needed for the dip to do its job.

Tear two clean paper towels in half.

(I keep the roll of paper towels up high on the shelf where they stay clean.)

Firmly wipe each teat with a separate piece of paper towel, wiping the entire teat, including the orifice.

(Some people use sanitized rags.  Use two rags, a separate side for each teat.)

Wipe each teat with a separate commercial teat wipe, including the orifice.

I use Milk Check wipes from Hamby.  Using four per milking, this works out to 17 cents per milking, a cost that I find quite reasonable.

The teat wipes:
  • remove most iodine residue.  (This is the most I got off; other teats had barely any left.)
  • are a final sanitizing step that I like to do.
  • If the cow pees during milking, the teat wipes are a handy way to re-clean the teats.
Apply Bag Balm to the teats.  This keeps the teats moisturized and makes it easier to strip without pulling the skin of the teats.

Optional:  If my gloves aren't powdered or I'm sweaty and have a hard time getting gloves on, I put a bit of baby powder on my hands.  (Sorry about the awful photos of me--just try to concentrate on the process and the beautiful cow!)

Glove up!

Why do I use gloves?  Research has shown that the use of gloves for milking reduces mastitis.  I often have splits, cracks or cuts on my hands that could harbor germs, so I think it's especially important for me.

Why do I wait till now to put the gloves on?  Because up till now I really haven't touched the teats, but I'm about ready to.

One nice thing about wearing gloves is that any time you need to re-clean your hands during milking, it's easy to sanitize them with an alcohol-based sanitizer without being hard on your skin.

NOTE that I do not touch the pump with any part of my hand that will touch the teat.  I turn my hand upside down and use the back to pump.

If I need to stop milking and touch the calf, a lead rope, or a shovel to catch manure--I sanitize.  Many days I never use the sanitizer, but it's there if I need it.

Strip each teat about 3 times into a cup . . .

. . . and check for clumps.

(I do have a strip cup which I forgot to bring to the barn.)

Note the lightweight stall mat under Ebby's feet.  There's also a larger one behind the stanchion for the cows to walk over as they enter and exit.  Cows do occasionally pee in the stanchion, and mats prevent slips and falls for both cow and milker--says the voice of experience!
Dump the stripped milk.

Milk away!  When the cup gets fairly full, I get up and dump it in the covered bucket, then sit back down.  I do it this way because:
  • It keeps me from getting stiff.
  • The lightweight camping cup is so much lighter to hold than a bowl and easier than a bucket.  The bowl I used to use weighed a pound, while the cup weighs 5 ounces.
  • It's much quicker to move out of the way if the cow hikes her tail to poop or pee.
  • It helps me gauge how much milk I'm getting since I know where the 2-cup mark is.
  • A cow can put her foot into a bucket if you don't get it out of the way when she moves, but she can't step in the cup.
  • Dumping milk into a bucket up on a shelf means that if an accident happens, I'm only crying over a little spilled milk.
To finish milking, strip each teat until no more milk comes out.  I strip at least 10 times.

Take the RED cup for STOP, and squeeze some into the reservoir.

Dip each teat.

Leave the dip on--do not wipe off.

If the calf is still nursing, I wait 30 seconds and then blot each teat with a separate piece of paper towel instead of wiping firmly.

You can dump the excess dip on a hoof.  Some people don't like to keep the dip that's left in the reservoir, while others leave it to eliminate waste.

Let the cow out of the stanchion, and clean up.  Ebby is not a pooper, but she did pee, so I sprayed bleach-water (that I keep in a spray bottle up on the shelf) on the stanchion and mats where the pee went.  Then I swept away the bleach water, and debris that Ebby and I tracked in.

Hang the mats to dry, if needed.

Lock the gate and take the milk back to the house.  The stanchion is clean and ready to go tomorrow.

With so many photos and detailed explanations, it may seem like my udder prep is really time-consuming.  It's not. When I get into the routine (and I'm not stopping to let someone take photos), it only takes a few minutes.  I believe it is time well spent, and I like the satisfaction of knowing that I have done everything possible to keep my cow's udder healthy and our milk clean.

Here is the condensed, simple version.

Please feel free to ask questions or make comments.  I'll do a follow-up post to answer any questions and share some resources that have helped me.


  1. Great post Susan, for those who want to milk and do it right and minimize the chance of getting mastitis in one of their cows. People starting to milk will find this very helpful.

    1. Thanks, Gordon! I asked my milking friends for their input, and it's a lot more OCD ;) than most of their routines, but it relieves my worries when I've done everything I can to prevent mastitis. I'm about to send a milk test off Monday morning to check Ebby for mastitis as a precaution, then I'll dry her off as soon as I get the results back. I do plan to do a "simpler version" without all the extraneous info, too--it might look as easy as it really is. I always appreciate your input!

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    2. and how well does this prevent mastitis for your girls? Do they get mastitis very often or not at all doing it this way?

  3. Thank you for posting this!! I am trying to get as much info as possible before getting a cow, and this is just what I needed! One question: if you don't use water and soap, how do you clean off manure if you have a cow that sits/lays in it? Do you just brush off the particles and then use the teat dip and leave the rest of the udder alone?

  4. That's a very good question! I'll answer it as best I can here, then ask my cow gurus' input. :) I do have one cow that tends to lay in manure if she can find it. Obviously, keeping her loafing area clean helps a lot, but when she's on pasture it's a lot harder to control.

    Part of the answer will depend on if you machine or hand milk. Machine milking is easier because really only the teats have to be clean. Hand milking is trickier because you need to clean everywhere your hand will be touching. So I'll answer for that . . .

    If the manure is dry, I use a soft brush to brush it off, then clean as usual.

    If the manure is wet and there's just a bit, I wipe off as much as I can with a clean rag--being careful not to wipe the teats with it. Then I use extra teat wipes and proceed to clean as usual.

    If her udder is very sloppy, that is the only time I would consider using water. I'd be sure there was TTO (tea tree oil) in it, use plenty of rags, and be sure to wring them out really, really well. I would be vigilant not to have water running off my hand down the teat, either. Then I would proceed to clean as usual.

    And finally, whether you can see it or not (and you usually can't on my black cows!), just assume there's manure somewhere on your cow's udder because there almost certainly is. :)

  5. Sorry, I missed your other question: "pcerikAugust 27, 2015 at 11:16 AM
    and how well does this prevent mastitis for your girls? Do they get mastitis very often or not at all doing it this way?"

    One of my cows has never had mastitis through the two lactations I've had her. The other one did get mastitis at the end of her first lactation, which she got from self-sucking (and that's a whole long story you can find on this blog). That was when I switched to this routine on my vet's recommendation. He believed her mastitis was caused by self-sucking, not by washing with water, but he also felt that using an iodine dip was a better preventive method. The following lactation (using this method), she did not have mastitis at all. This lactation she freshened with mastitis; one vet told me that the udder net I used to stop her from self-sucking is what caused the problem. That makes sense since it occurred before I started milking her.

    I hope you don't mind that I removed the double posts. :)


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