Tag Archives: Cattle Health


I have a young cow, on her second calf. She has a rather ugly udder and two overly large teats. The calf is doing fine but won’t suck those two teats. Disposition-wise, the cow is a little high-strung, and I have problems milking those teats out. If I use a little metal tube insert to drain the milk, will it cause permanent damage to the udder?


This cow has a condition commonly called “balloon teats.” Teat and udder quality is a major problem. It is a Top 4 reason for culling cows. The Beef Improvement Federation has a teat and udder scoring system to help producers make culling decisions (beef.unl.edu/learning/udder_score.shtml). In addition, the Hereford breed has developed expected progeny difference (EPD) scores for udder suspension and teat size.

A cow’s udder is an amazing structure. At the end of the teat is a complex structure called the “street canal,” a one-way valve that releases milk to the calf but keeps infectious organisms out. A large metal “teat needle” as you describe can introduce these organisms into the teat and udder. Even worse, it can temporarily or permanently damage the street canal, making the udder much more vulnerable to infections.

On a few exceptional occasions when I could not milk out a teat, I have used a much smaller, single-use sterile plastic cannula to drain it. In some of these cases, the calf has been able to begin nursing the teat afterwards. But, it’s important to note the condition will recur with the next calf, and it will usually be worse. This condition significantly reduces milk production and weaning weight of the calf. There is also a very real chance the calf does not receive adequate colostrum, which affects its performance even into the feedlot. In a worst-case scenario, the weaning weight is reduced to zero because of death of the calf. I advise you to sell this cow and cast a questioning eye to her dam and sire. This is not something you want in your herd.


We had a very bad cold, wet snap with lots of snow, ice and rain right in the middle of calving season. Several calves started scouring, and we treated them with scour boluses and penicillin. We lost four of them. We have not had any more cases since, but we’d like to know what we can do to prevent this in the future.


There are so many potential causes when it comes to scours, you really need to get your veterinarian involved. A good history of what happened leading up to this is going to be very important. Some key information would include age of the calves, age of the dams, body conditions, available feed, available minerals and whether cows had been vaccinated and dewormed.

You note this started when bad weather moved in. The cold, wet conditions you describe can sometimes keep calves from getting up and nursing quickly. That can mean they don’t get enough colostrum those first few critical hours of life. Also, muddy, nasty conditions increase the chances disease will spread. They also make maintaining a normal body temperature difficult at best.

If cows are thin, or lacking in balanced nutrition including minerals, colostrum quality may suffer. All of these things can work together to increase the potential for sick calves.

An accurate diagnosis is the first step in knowing how to treat calves and prevent future outbreaks. Calf scours can be caused by several different viruses, bacteria and parasites. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses or parasites; they only help if the bacteria involved is susceptible. Just as importantly, antibiotics may kill good bacteria and make the situation worse. The decision on whether, when and what antibiotics to use must be made in consultation with your herd veterinarian. As you discuss this, ask for a review of your overall herd-health program. If the situation recurs, act fast to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan under way.