Dairy Goats Udder Health
& Milk Quality

When your farm is running smoothly and your herd of dairy goats is healthy, there is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with every shipment of milk that leaves your farm. Knowing that you've done your best to produce quality milk that will be processed and shipped across the country and even the world creates a sense of pride that few others will experience.

However, when you are struggling to control an outbreak of mastitis in your dairy goats,  and/or bacteria counts in the milk are high it can be very discouraging and that feeling of pride can turn to feelings of anxiety and unease. While it is impossible to prevent all cases of mastitis or to never have high bacteria counts, there are a few management practices that can greatly reduce such occurrences.

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Prevention is the best medicine

Are you struggling with recurring issues of  mastitis in your herd? Be sure to follow management practices during milking and proper bedding for your animals to prevent the spread of mastitis among your milking goats. 

What Causes High Bacteria Counts in Your Dairy Goats Milk?

  1. Contamination during storage
  2. Contamination during milking
  3. Mastitis in one or more goats

1. Contamination During Storage

The first place you should start troubleshooting if you have a shipment of dairy goats milk with high bacteria is the bulk tank. Here is a small checklist to work through:

  • Tank Washer: Observe the tank washer to ensure that it runs properly. After the tank has been washed look inside for any milkstone build-up on the agitator. An improperly cleaned tank will contaminate milk during storage.
  • Agitator:  Check to see if the agitator runs at the proper times and for the correct length of time. If the agitator is not running properly it will lead to inconsistent temperatures which can create an environment that is favourable for bacteria growth.
  • Temperature: Check the temperature of the milk. Ideally the temperature of the milk should be 1-3° C (34-37° F) between milkings. There will of course be some temperature fluctuation when new milk is being added during milking but the temperature should return to  1-3°C within an hour of milking. If temperatures are consistently higher or take too long to return to normal after milking, then the bacterial counts will start climbing.

2. Contamination During Milking

If you do not find anything of concern after inspecting the bulk tank the next place to look is the milking system. If the milking system is not cleaned properly or if certain components are in need of repair or replacement, bacteria can grow in the pipelines or milking units during the time between milkings, which will cause contamination of the milk during milking, and possibly also contamination of your dairy goats. Here are some things to look for:

  • Liners/Inflations: Check that the liners/inflations are in good condition. Cracks in the liners can harbour bacteria that are very hard for the wash cycle to clean.
  • Jetter Cups: Check that the milking units fit securely in the jetter cups. If jetter cups are cracked so that the milking units fit loosely in the jetters, it may prevent the units from being washed properly. Some detergents, acids and chlorines are hard on jetters, causing them to crack and wear out rather quickly. It is a good idea to replace cracked and worn out jetters on a regular basis.
  • Temperature: Check that the water reaches the proper temperatures for each cycle of the wash. If your hot water heaters are not large enough or are not set hot enough the wash cycles may not remove all the fatty residues which are places for bacteria to grow.
  • Detergent & Acid: Check that the proper amount of detergent, acid, or chlorine is being added to each cycle of the wash.  If you have automatic dispensing, check to make sure the intake reaches the bottom of the barrel.
  • Milk stone Build-up: Check the inside of the milk line (especially near corners) for build-up of milk stone. Milk stone is a hard layer of milk residue that acts as a protective barrier for bacteria against the wash cycle.  If you find that you have a build-up of milk stone talk to your milking equipment/chemical supplier, they will be able to advise you as to the best products or procedure  for removing it. You will find that after it is removed your bacteria counts will drop.

3. Mastitis in One or More Dairy Goats

If you are able to rule out contamination during storage and during milking then unfortunately you may have a mastitis problem in one or more dairy goats.  The two most common ways to test for mastitis are to test the conductivity of the milk and to test the level of somatic cells (SC) in the milk.  Testing the levels of somatic cells however may not be very accurate during later stages of lactation because dairy goats are always producing SC so during later stages of lactation the concentration of SCs per litre of milk will be quite high, even in healthy dairy goats.

If your testing  reveals that mastitis is the cause of the high bacteria counts in the milk it is important to treat the goat promptly. It is usually recommended to take a sample to your vet for bacterial culturing in order to determine whether it is a contagious type of mastitis or an environment type.  Contagious types are easily transmitted during milking while environmental types are a result of inadequate bedding. The easiest way to prevent environmental types is to keep your goats well bedded.  Environmental types require more management.

Management Practices that can help reduce the occurrence and spread of contagious mastitis:

  •  Wear Latex Gloves: Bacteria that can cause mastitis may be present in the cracks and folds in your hands. Skin also is a surface that easily allows transmission of bacteria from one udder to the next. Wearing latex gloves will prevent  the spread of bacteria.  

    We like the nitrile gloves, we stay away from the vinyl ones, they're awful.  You can find nitrile gloves on Amazon.   They used to be relatively cheap, but now, thanks to Covid (!) they've skyrocketed in price. 

  • Clean Teats & Udders: Cleaning udders and teats before milking units are attached will greatly reduce occurrences of mastitis. As previously mentioned skin is a good place for bacteria to grow. Therefore goats that come into the parlour with teats and udders that appear to be clean may still have large bacterial populations that can cause mastitis. Washing udders will clean away much of this bacteria.  We generally use baby wipes, but actually this summer on some of those extra hot days, we hosed off their udders and wiped them dry with paper towels. They seemed to enjoy the refreshing spray :)

    When buying wipes, always look for the price per wipe, you can spend as little as $0.02/wipe or as much as $1.15/wipe. These wipes on Amazon are our go-to for just $0.02/wipe, and they're delivered right to your door.

  • Post Dip with Iodine: After milking the teat canals remain open for approx 30 minutes. Post dipping with iodine will prevent new bacteria from the environment (bedding, flies) from entering the teat before the canal closes.  

    You can find iodine at your local feed store, and here's a similar iodine dipper to the one we use. 

  • Milking Order: Milk younger animals first and suspect goats last. Younger udders tend to be healthier so milking the doelings first will keep their udders healthier longer by reducing the chance of transmission of mastitis causing bacteria.

Dr. Paula Menzies, a professor in ruminant health management at the Ontario Veterinary College, wrote the following guide in collaboration with Ph.D candidate Colleen Fitzpatrick at the University of Saskatchewan, and Dr. Jocelyn Jansen, Phil Wilman, and Mike Foran from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).  We have found it to be very helpful and extremely informative.  It has many pictures throughout, to help you identify problems in your milking goats udders.

To order your copy of the Udder Health Manual, please contact Ontario Goat at 1-866-311-6422 or info@livestockalliance.ca.  The price for the manual is $45 ($15 for licenced Ontario dairy goat producers).  The price includes shipping within Ontario.

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