This resource describes aspects of dairy cow housing and management.
Herd location: Location of a herd is relevent to mastitis
mainly in terms of local differences in weather. For example, warm,
humid weather is experienced in the southern states for a longer
period than the northern states. This means that the period of time
to be concerned about flies as a mastitis vector is longer in Louisanna
than in Wisconsin. Typical seasonal weather for a location also
will partially dictate the type of housing that is used for the
Season & Weather: Hot and humid weather, such as occurs
in many parts of the US in the summer, results in an increased risk
of mastitis for a several reasons. The hot and humid conditions
put more stress on the cow's immune system and the cow's ability
to resist disease. There are more flies around that
may transmit mastitis organisms to the cows' teats. If outside in
a pasture, cows look for cool places to get away from the heat.
That means they will congregate under shade trees if available.
This concentration of animals is accompanied by a concentration
of feces and urine in the area that they congregate. Many will lie
down in this muddy, manure/urine soaked soil. Also, cows in hot
conditions are more likley to wade into a pond or creek than normally.
Again, the concentration of feces in that environment can enhance
their chances of getting mastitis. On the other hand, if cows are
kept indoors in winter months when the ground is frozen and they
cannot get the usual exercise time, probably means that they are
lying in a dirty barn more often. In freestall units, the manure
often freezes in very cold weather and is very difficult to scrape
out. It is not unusual under those circumstances for the manager
to cut back on the barn cleaning effort. Providing adequate ventilation
and a clean environment for cows at all time so year is important.
Even beyond the exposure to environmental pathogens, cold weather
can cause chapped or cracked teats. This is just like your hands
getting chapped or cracked in winter. The skin's protective barrier
becomes compromised and bacteria may be able to colonize the cracks
in the skin. These may then be transfered into the gland at milking
and cause mastitis. Teat care, especially in the cold seasons, is
important for control of mastitis. If you are familair with the
product "Bag Balm" that some people buy for their hands
in winter, this is a product that was developed long ago and is
still used for treating cows' teats in winter. It contains lanoline
that helps keep the skin from chapping.
Herd size: Herd size does not directly impact incidence
of mastitis. Small herds have as much problem with mastitis as large
herds. However, herd size does impact the type of facility and how
the animals are managed, both of which can impact incidence of mastitis.
Barn & stall design: The are several types of barns
in which cows may be housed. Design of the barn and the stalls for
the cows can be relevant to control of mastitis. Free stall barns
typically have concrete walkways and raised stalls with steel dividing
bars. The floor of the stalls may be bedded with various materials
(see below for Bedding). If the stalls are designed properly then
cows can go in and out of the stall easily, lie down in comfort,
and lie in a relatively clean bedding. Cows are more likley to defecate
in the walkways than on the bedding in the raised stall. Manure
in the walkways is scraped or flushed with water, usually once per
day. Cows have access to water from automatic waterers and access
to feed through some style of headgate. Most dairy cows today are
housed in some form of a freestall barn.
Freestalls, showing steel dividing
bars and raised bedded area for cows to lie down.
Cows lying in freestalls. Note how the area where the cows are lying is raised above the walkway
Automatic waterer in freestall barn.
Cows eating in freestall barn.
Cows in a freestall barn. Note that at any given time, several cows will be up eating, some will be wandering around, and many will be lying down.
The other major type of barn is often refered to as a "flat barn." This includes barns that have stanchions or tie-chains to restrain
the cow in its stall. In these cases, the cow can only move in and
out of the stall when they are released, usually for milking or
for exercise. Stall design is important here, as well. If a cow
is too short for the stall (for example a Jersey cow in a stall
designed for Holstein cows), then there is more likelihood that
the cow will defecate within the back of the stall and then lie
in the manure. In some cases, people may still milk cows in a flat
barn. In those cases the milk pipeline would be raised over the
cows' heads (high milk line; see resource on the Milking Machine).
Flat barns, either stanchion or tie stall or a combination of both
(such as the UIUC South Barn) were common in times past. In some
areas, especially where the winter months are very cold, flat barns
are still common.
Cow lying in a stanchion stall.
This Brown Swiss cow in a tie-stall has a little more mobility than if she were in a stanchion.
Another type of housing sometimes used for cows, especially heifers
or dry cows, is a three- or four-sided shed that is an open pen
with no individual stalls. This arrangement typically is bedded
with some organic bedding (most often straw, but sometimes with
corn cobs or other inexpensive orgtanic bedding). When the barn
is clean and the bedding fresh, this arrangement should be effective
at minimizing mastitis. However, a typical management approach is
to leave the soiled bedding in the barn and put fresh bedding on
top. This eventually forms a pack of bedding and provides a well
insulated floor covering for cows to lie down on. However, this
also is an excellent source of environmental mastitis-causing bacteria,
especially those associated with feces.
Bedding: When a cow lies down, her udder and teats come
into contact with whatever she is lying on. The type of bedding
and how that bedding is kept clean are critical issues for control
ofenvironmental mastitis. The ideal beeding for limiting environmental
mastitis would be a clean inorganic material. Sand is the only such
material available is substantial quantities. If kept clean, sand
allows urine to drain down away from the cow. And sand is less likely
to have bacteria growing in it than an organic bedding. However,
sand can be expensive and it is more difficult to eliminate the
feces-spoiled waste, compared with organic forms of bedding.
Freestalls bedded with sand.
The primary forms of organic bebdings used today are sawdust and
straw. In addition to straw, other types of plant materials from
wastage of crop harvesting have been used and some are still used
(such as corn cobs). Shreaded newspaper is used by some producers
if a source is available. Organic beddings soak up fluids from urine,
but also are good media for bacterial growth. Feces-spoiled sawdust
or straw can be a major source of environmental pathogens for causing
mastitis. In addition, green sawdust, that is sawdust that is from
uncured wood, can harbor some types of Klebsiella bacteria, even
before it becomes soiled with feces.
Pile of sawdust to be used for bedding barns and freestalls.
Exercise area: Cows that are maintained in a freestall type
of housing are free to wonder around the barn, and therefore do
not need a separate exercise area. However, cows that are tethered
in a tie-stall barn or stancheon barn need to be put out into an
open area dairy for exercise. Typically this is done after the morning
milking and during the time when the barn is being cleaned. Exercise
lots may be on concrete, sand or dirt. Cows should be observed in
the exercise lots for signs of estrus (heat; mounting behavior).
Cows in a dirt exercise lot.
Pastures, creeks, ponds: Pastures can be a very clean environment
for cows. However, space availability, soil types, and other factors will
determine whether a producer keeps the cows housed or runs them on a pasture.
Pasture management is critical for effective use of the pasture grass
as a supplemental forage for the cows. Pastures relate to mastitis when
they become too wet and muddy. See the discussion above on Season & Weather.
If the major source of water for the cows while on pasture is a stream,
creek or pond, these may relate to mastitis, as well. Cows in hot weather
will walk into water to cool off. They may also defecate in the water.
If the water is deep enough to contaminate their teats then the glands
may become infected. Contaminated water, such as a creek or pond, and
especially during the hot months of summer, can harbor several types of
mastitis-causing microorganisms. Providing a clean water source on a concrete
area minimizes their contact with a muddy and dirty environment. Fencing
off the offending water source is one way to keep the cows out of the
Cows in a muddy pasture.
Cow standing in a water puddle on a poorly drained concrete slab.
Milking Parlors: Milking parlor design also is important
for control of mastitis. It is the time around milking when the
udder is most at risk of becoming infected. The milking machine
is housed in the parlor and the milking process occurs in the parlor
(see Milking Machine and Milking Process resources). In most parlors
the milkers are standing in a "pit" so that the cow's
udder is elevated and easier to reach without kneeling down (as
when milking in a flat barn). Originally, many parlors were single
sided, that is milking machines on only one side of the pit. Most
parlors today are double, that is milking machines line both sides
of the pit.
Milking in a pit also means that the milker has the opportunity
to do a better job at keeping the immediate environment around the
udder clean. Manure can be washed away with a water hose, the teats
are easier to see to get properly cleaned, and the entire milking
process is easier than milking in a flat barn. Many adaptations
of milking systems are based on this spatial relationship between
milker and cow's udder. Parlors allow for using a low line pipeline
system (see Milking Machine resource). Milking machines can be left
in place and therefore ATO systems and computerized applications
can be employed. Milking machines can be cleaned in place, allowing
for more effective post-milking cleaning of equipment.
Herringbone milking parlor. Here,
cows would enter from the far end of the walkway. Once to the end
of this holding area, the cows face away from the pit at an angle.
Cows would be in a staggered position relative to each other. The
cow's udder would be accessible from the pit. When all cow's on
a side of the parlor has completed milking, either they exit in
single file from the near end of this walkway, or in this case,
the bars in front of the cows raise and the cows all exit simultaneously.
Parallel milking parlor. Here the
cows enter from the far end, but turn 90 degrees away from the pit
and stand side-by-side. Cows are milked between the rear legs. When
all the cows on a side are done milking, the bar in front of the
cows raises and they all exit simultaneously. This saves considerable
time in cow movement through the parlor system.