There are many things to evaluate when selecting a cow. It’s particularly important to examine for udder and teat conformation.
Many cows are culled later in life because of bad teats.
Calves of a cow with bad teats may have a hard time sucking and getting much needed colostrum. Persuading a calf to suck on the big coke bottle teats can take a lot of individual attention in the spring calving rush when labour is at a premium.
Look at the developing udder for signs of abnormally large or small teats when selecting heifer replacements in the spring. The teats should be uniformly in a square. You don’t want extra teats.
This is especially critical in dairy cattle where milkers are put on four teats on a twice daily basis. Most supernumerary (extra) teats are rudimentary at best and are usually either between the normal teats or behind the normal four teats.
I surgically remove a few in show cattle, but most often they are left.
They can become a problem if they are large and the calf tries to suck on them. They are most often blind ending and rudimentary and the milk producing gland isn’t attached.
The problem is newborn calves can spend a lot of time trying to get milk out of them.
Cows are occasionally five quartered, which doesn’t hurt in a beef herd but is a definite no-no in a dairy animal. Most dairies check newborn calves for that reason.
Some heifer calves deposit a lot of fat in the udder. This extra fat has been proven to hurt their future milk production. They become the good looking fat healthy cows that produce scrawny calves because of lack of milk production.
Lower weaning weights are most generally a sign of poor milk production unless there is another medical reason for the poor weight gains. This is another good reason for records and having tags in both cow and calf. Knowing the birth date of the calf and its size at weaning helps eliminate the poor milkers.
Teats on yearlings should be noticeable but not too large and evenly placed. Too small or too large make it difficult for the calf to latch onto at birth.
Smaller teats also have a smaller streak canal that requires lots of sucking to get milk. Calves are not stupid so will gravitate to sucking on the teats that milk the easiest.
Teats that are too large are also hard for the calf to suck on. They have larger streak canals and will often leak milk if the teat sphincter is not tight. These quarters are prone to mastitis.
The teat will either grow larger over time because it is never milked out or a chronic mastitis will take hold, rendering the quarter useless.
The good news about chronic mastitis is the quarter can be dried off chemically if the cow is not sick.
A veterinarian can advise on treatment, which involves either copper sulfate solution or silver nitrate solution put up the infected quarter. This sets up chemical inflammation scarring and drying off of the quarter.
I prefer 12 cc of a one percent silver nitrate solution infused up the quarter and then repeated in 10 days.
It is much easier if the cow is in the process of being weaned and the other quarters are being dried off naturally.
The cow then freshens next year as a three teater. Milk production does not suffer because a three teated cow will produce almost as much as a four teated cow.
However, it is best to cull the cow if two quarters are shot because milk production is considerably less. Calves usually avoid these quarters because the taste of mastitic milk is not good, and the swelling and inflammation should alert the producer to check.
Scarred and blind teats are more difficult to notice, but there are telltale signs: either the calf always seems to be sucking and yet is gaunt or the cow’s udder is always full.
If in doubt, get the cow into the maternity pen and strip out the quarters to see if milk is present.
Not many cows are brought into maternity pens these days to calve out because of easy calving, but the ones that are should be stripped out to make sure the teats are not plugged. This makes it much easier on a calf just getting started, but it also allows problems to be detected early. Many calves starve to death each year or don’t get enough colostrum because of teat problems.
Heavy milkers develop low slung bags and/or their suspensory apparatus becomes stretched in later life. Teat placement becomes too low, which makes it difficult for tall calves to suck. They should be put on the cull list.
Self suckers or heifers that suck on their pen mates should also be sold as slaughter animals.
As well, watch for teat injuries from freezing on cold windy days. Ointments may be able to prevent serious mastitis problems or calves getting kicked as they suck these sore blackened teats.
We can lower the cull rate for udder and teat problems later in life by checking teat and udder conformation early and not using the undesirables as replacements. You won’t eliminate all the problems, but most can be avoided. Your goal is tight uddered, soft milkers with good milk production that have a long productive life in your herd.