Ask the Vet

Udder Quality is Important

Balloon teats is a common reason for culling a cow.(PF photos by Claire Vath)

Question

I have a young cow on her second calf. She has an ugly udder and two overly large teats. The calf is doing fine but won't nurse those teats. I have tried to milk them out without much success. If I insert a small metal tube to drain the milk, will it damage the udder?

Answer

This cow has a condition commonly called "balloon teats." Teat and udder quality is a top reason for culling cows. The Beef Improvement Federation has a scoring system to help you make those culling decisions (see https://beef.unl.edu/…).

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 infectious organisms into the teat and udder. It can also temporarily or permanently damage the street canal, making the udder 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 afterward. It's important to note that this condition will recur with the next calf. It significantly reduces milk production and weaning weights, and there is a chance the calf doesn't receive adequate colostrum. I advise you sell this cow and cast a questioning eye to her dam and sire.