Cleaner Cows, Better Milk: Removal of Udder Hair

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Source: Pennsylvania State University

One main goal of all dairy farms is to produce high-quality, fresh, clean milk.  Many management factors go into producing this wholesome product.  A healthy, well-cared-for dairy animal is a top priority in achieving this goal.  Nutrition, cow comfort, water availability, and a well-maintained milking system are just a few pieces of the puzzle in producing high-quality milk.  One key factor is cleanliness; a clean parlor, equipment, environment, and especially clean cows all contribute to producing high-quality milk on dairy farms.

Mastitis can lead to a decrease in the quality of milk being produced and a decline in the animal’s overall health.  Mastitis is the increase in white blood cells in the mammary tissues of a dairy cow.  This cell increase is reflected in milk’s somatic cell count (SCC).  There are many ways to combat mastitis incidences in cows, with prevention being one of the most important management practices on a dairy farm.  A study published in the Journal of Dairy Science focusing on the relationship between udder and leg hygiene scores found a significant association between contagious pathogens and udder hygiene (Schreiner and Ruegg, 2003).  The graph illustrates this correlation between the prevalence of pathogens and the cleanliness of udders, as shown by the linear scores.  The higher the score, the dirtier the udder.

Graph showing the amount of pathogens correlates to the cleanliness of udders
Source: Journal of Dairy Science. 86:3460–3465

Farmers and producers can minimize these pathogens in milk by keeping udders as clean as possible. One way to achieve this is by removing the hair on the udders of the milking cows. This udder hair causes a problem in that it can become soiled. Bedding materials, manure, and other debris can get stuck to udder hair, leading to problems such as mastitis and higher SCC. Research has shown that a clean udder, free of debris, will have a lower incidence of mastitis than those not clean and/or free of debris. If your cows are clean, the milk harvested will be higher quality. Therefore, removing udder hair can keep the cow cleaner, reduce mastitis, and improve the quality of milk harvested. Hair may be removed from the udder, either clipping or singeing.

Using electric clippers will shorten udder hair, thus making the debris less likely to stick to the hair follicles. While clipping is effective, it takes a lot of time and patience. There is also noise associated with this method, and physically running clippers on the udder can make cows nervous, increasing the risk of injury to the cow and the person clipping the udder.

Another way to shorten the hair is to singe the udder. This is a simple procedure that can have a significant positive impact on milk quality. Singeing off the hair is done with a cool 3-4″ propane flame passed along the udder in a back-and-forth motion. Occasionally, the debris on the udder can cause a flare-up during the procedure, so persons doing the singeing should always wear a flame-resistant glove. This technique will take approximately 15 to 20 seconds per animal. The animal remains calm as there is no physical touching of the udder or the animal itself. There is considerably less noise and less trauma to the animal using singeing compared to clippers.

The removal of udder hair is just one step that can be done to help keep udders free from manure and debris that can harbor pathogens. Whether the udder hair is clipped or singed, proper management practices must be followed to ensure the safety of the animal and the person removing the hair. When done correctly, clean udders are easier to prep for milking and, along with other practices, can help keep SCC numbers low and produce high-quality milk.

References

Schreiner, D.A., and Ruegg, P.L. “Relationship Between Udder and Leg Hygiene Scores.” Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 86, 2003, pp. 3460-3465.

Author:

Greg Strait
Former Agriculture and Youth Development/4-H, Extension Educator