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Dirty Laundry: Towel Cleanliness Affects Mastitis Prevalence

Brittany Bowman

You’re wiping your cows’ udders with separate towels, but how clean are those towels?

University of Minnesota researchers collected washed udder towels ready to be used in the milking parlor from 69 dairies to evaluate bacteria present. They compared laundering practices, bacteria species observed and cow mastitis infections.

No farms using a professional laundering service had high coliform counts on towels, and not using a dryer was a clear predictor for the probability of having high bacteria counts. Additionally, there was a relationship between Staphylococcus species and Streptococcus-like organisms on towels and intramammary infections in cows sampled.

Looking for other low-hanging fruit on the hunt for mastitis culprits? Researchers in separate projects highlighted two other factors commonly thought to be udder health culprits.

Udder hair may not increase mastitis risk

While it is often assumed udder hair interferes with proper cleaning of the udder, researchers at Washington State University found differences in bacterial count were not different amongst cows with udder hair and cows which had their hair removed by singeing. Researchers note removing hair is required in all U.S. markets and do not recommend dairy farmers stop this procedure, especially in situations where no teat disinfecting procedure is used.

Winter housing and bedding influence udder health

University of Minnesota researchers found cows kept outdoors on straw-bedded packs had cleaner udders and lower mastitis risk than cows kept indoors in compost-bedded pack barns. Interestingly, the incidence of frostbite was not largely different between the two groups.

Researchers suggest a lower stocking density for outdoor cows may have influenced cleanliness, as well as a loafing area where cows would often manure and urinate. The research was conducted over three winter seasons.


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