There was a time, not that long ago, when spraying teats with water after milking was considered a good idea.

Luckily, for our cows and our budgets, we now know adding teat spray to that water is essential.

Teat spray is a mix of usually iodine or chlorhexidine, which kill bacteria, and emollients such as glycerine that keeps the skin of the teat supple and helps to prevent cracks.

It’s been proven to reduce mastitis in lactating cows by 50%, meaning happy cows and happy farmers.

The bacteria that causes mastitis isn’t great at moving around on its own, but after milking the teat canal is open and when cows move, such as when they are walking back to their paddock, it causes pressure gradients in the canal.

These pressure gradients can cause any liquid to be sucked up, and the mastitis-causing bacteria hitch a lift with it into the udder.

Teat spray kills many of these bugs.

As well, teat sprays are pH-skin-friendly and the emollients in the spray encourage healing. It’s hand cream for cows.

And just like cracks in your hands, cracks in teats give bacteria a place to hide and are also painful, especially when the cups are put on. Cows with cracked teats will often kick and won’t let down properly, so keeping the teat skin smooth and supple improves milking out and increases milk yield. And if a teat is in perfect condition, there are fewer places for bacteria to hide.

Many teat sprays also include a non-staining dye so you can see the coverage of the spray on the teat.

Always mix it according to the directions on the label. Don’t water it down to save a few dollars – the recommended concentration is there for a reason.

Most have a limited shelf life so make sure you use it within the time frame printed on the container.

Also be careful with the water you add to the teat spray – using contaminated water is defeating the purpose of teat spraying.

A dedicated jug for measuring will prevent cross contamination with other dairy chemicals.

Of course, getting the teat spray on the teat is the difficult bit. You want good coverage of all four teats after every milking.

Cows aren’t wonderful at staying still for this. They’re not keen on getting anything sprayed on them, however pH-friendly and good for them it is.

Different teat sprayers have tried to overcome this and there are a fair few to choose from and a wide range of prices.

Starting at the bottom of the price range is the good old hand pump container that you can simply carry from cow to cow after the cups come off.

Great for herringbone dairies and it gives staff something to do while they wait for the next row to come in.

The downside is it is up to your staff to make sure there is good coverage, especially on the hard-to-reach front teats that are even more difficult to see. No one wants to put their head down into the firing range of a good kick.

Hand pump sprayers also only contain so much teat spray, so if the herd is large you will need to fill it up again during milking.

They also easily get lost and if there is no teat sprayer where it needs to be and the row is walking out there is nothing you can do.

And you also have to pump them, a lot.

The next step up is a manual pressurised system – no need for pumping but you still have to remember to use it and it’s up to the operator how good the coverage is.

In herringbones there is usually one dropper every four cows and in rotaries there are often a couple at cups off.

With a reservoir and a pump, usually installed in the milk room, there is no running out – unless you forget to fill it at the start of milking.

Next are the automatic systems that either spray the teats while the cow is still in the bail (rotaries) or when the cow walks over a sensor as they leave the dairy.

These generally use more spray than the manual systems but, if you also have automatic cup removers, you don’t need a person at cups off in a rotary.

With in-bail sprayers, usually installed where the leg spreaders are, care has to be taken the auto teat spray sensors are not triggering and spraying udders while clusters are still attached.

If it gets in the milk there will be spray residual penalties from your milk company.

Another way it can get in the milk is if a cow kicks off her cups and then is sprayed before being recupped.

Walk-over systems have their own problems.

They can create difficulties with cow flow leaving the dairy because cows have to line up to go through the system.

Wind can blow the spray around and some cows just hate them and will run and even jump to avoid getting sprayed.

Whatever system you choose, the teat spray has to cover the whole teat, not just the end, to be effective.

And whether it is human-powered, or automatic, regularly check this is happening. Otherwise you’re just wasting teat spray.

Once a week visually check cows after being teat sprayed to make sure coverage is on all four teats and the entire teat is covered.

If your somatic cells are climbing on your milk docket, the first thing you should do is check your teat spraying.

And use teat spray all year round. You may think the risk of mastitis is highest at the start of the season so slacking off later on is no big deal.

But it is to your cows. Sunny days and hotter temperatures dry the skin of the teat so cracks can happen more easily and cracks mean kicked off cups and the increased risk of infections.

Do your cows and yourself a favour and teat spray all season.