Over the past few months I’ve heard producers asking, “Where can I make cuts in the parlor to lower my cost of production?”

While the need to cut costs is top-of-mind in these tough economic times, it’s equally as important to remain focused on the long-term vision for the dairy and to minimize your risks.

One cost-cutting measure we continue to hear about is producers eliminating pre- and post-dipping practices from milking procedures as a way to lower inputs. While this may appear to be one way to save money today, the long-term risks of compromised udder health and milk quality can be extremely detrimental to the overall success of your dairy.

Why make the financial investment?
You’ve heard many times before about the value of and need for pre- and post-dipping in the milking parlor and it’s important not to lose sight of the critical benefits they provide. Research and field experience have proven the effectiveness of teat dipping as it relates to milk quality and udder health. The costs associated with the risk of losing these benefits as the result of a simple cost-cutting exercise may far outweigh the purchase price of a proven, effective product.

Pre-dipping has multiple benefits for udder health and parlor efficiency, including:


Killing mastitis-causing pathogens. Since teat ends come in contact with thousands of bacteria every day it is critical to kill these mastitis-causing pathogens before the milking unit is attached. If bacteria remain on teat ends after unit attachment, they can contaminate the milking equipment surface and allow the bacteria to be transferred from cow to cow. This prolonged contamination of the milking equipment surface can increase the risk of new infections and can have a negative influence on milk quality.

Assisting in milk letdown. The premilking routine ensures proper stimulation for the milk letdown process. Cows need the sound, touch and routine associated with milking to be fully stimulated, resulting in optimized letdown. If the milking unit is attached without proper udder stimulation, milk letdown, udder health and cow comfort are all compromised. Predipping ensures all three are optimized for high-quality milk harvest.

Maintaining parlor flow. A minimal premilking prep procedure can actually increase machine on-time and slow parlor throughput. If milking procedures are done properly, not just quickly, milking time per cow can be reduced by 1.5 to 3.5 minutes. Milk flow rates improve with proper udder stimulation, including pre-dipping, stripping and wiping. Poorly prepped cows will have periods of low flow rates for about 20 to 30 seconds after the unit is initially attached. This not only slows milking time, but can negatively influence teat health.

Post-dipping practices serve as protection against bacteria and harsh weather conditions and help your cows by:

Protecting teat ends.
Mastitis- causing organisms may be on the teat skin at the end of milking. The teat ends must be protected from these bacteria so they do not multiply and gain access into the teat canal. The purpose of post-dipping the teats at the end of milking is to kill these harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of new infections. Post-dipping provides the protection teat ends need to fend off mastitis-causing pathogens when the sphincter is still relaxed and does not have the ability to protect the internal canal. For this reason, herds can experience a higher incidence of new infections if post-dipping practices are stopped for even a short period of time.

Removing milk film. Post-dipping removes residual milk left on the teat after milking. This milk can serve as a good food source for bacteria if left on the teat and many times will attract flies that can carry harmful bacteria to the teat ends.

Alleviating negative weather effects. Through all weather conditions, teat ends are exposed to a harsh environment. During the wet and cool spring, post-dipping teats with dips having skin conditioning ingredients protects teat ends from the extremes of weather, keeping the skin soft and pliable.

Make an investment in udder health
Beyond the research-proven effectiveness of pre- and post-dipping, the financial implications associated with a new case of mastitis – when compared to the input costs of pre- and post-dipping – show how important dipping is as an insurance program.

I often use the example of a young person deciding whether or not to purchase health insurance. If the person does purchase insurance and remains healthy for five years, it appears the investment was a waste of money since the insurance was never utilized. But, if that person does not have health insurance and gets sick during those five years, the resulting medical bills could be astronomical and, in hindsight, an insurance policy would have been a very good investment.

The same is true about the practice of pre- and post-dipping. If your herd’s somatic cell count and new infection rates remain low without pre- and post-dipping practices, it may be considered a good cost-cutting measure. However, if you remove the practice and the incidence of mastitis increases from 0.5 to 2 percent, the associated health costs will outweigh the initial financial gains.

The cost of an insurance policy is minimal compared to the magnitude of potential risk associated with not having one. In your milking parlor, the same holds true: your insurance policy – pre- and post-dipping – costs about $15 per cow per lactation, while the resulting health issues – like clinical mastitis – can cost as much as $200 per case.

Milk quality to consumers
Quality is one of the core pillars used when educating consumers about how milk is produced, processed and sold. It is important to uphold such values as we strive to provide the world with only the highest-quality milk through the proper implementation of research-proven and effective protocols. As you make cost-cutting decisions, keep in mind that consumers expect the highest-quality product and believe dairymen are doing everything they can to provide a product that is healthy and wholesome. Let’s not taint this image by lowering our milk quality standards.

While no one solution is a fix-all in this economic climate, it’s important to remember what factors contributed to past successes on your dairy. In the milking parlor, pre- and post-dipping has helped maintain udder health, reduced incidence of new mastitis cases and provide additional profits through quality premiums. Carefully consider the many advantages and importance of pre- and post-dipping practices before any knee-jerk reactions remove them from your procedures. It’s an insurance policy you’re sure to need in coming years. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice President for GEA