Any time a cow has a problem with its udders, people start worrying about Mastitis. Hand-milked cows are probably never going to get mastitis unless they’re left un-milked for long periods of time or the farm is a disgusting mess. Most cases of mastitis are caused by dirty milking environments where milking equipment is used in common on large numbers of cows. Mastitis doesn’t just randomly start inside the cow. It takes bacteria from outside to get in and the way the cow’s udders and teats are designed…stuff doesn’t get in easily. Milking machines make it easier for bacteria to get in since they cup the teats and can push fluid back into the teat during milking. Therefore, don’t worry too much about mastitis on a family farm with a hand-milked cow. You’ll probably never see it, unless you buy a cow from a dairy that already has it. If your cow does have mastitis, you’ll see it in the milk….that’s one of the reasons why you’re supposed to strip the first few squirts of milk into a strip cup with a strainer…so you can see if there’s anything in the milk BEFORE you get milking.
Edema is common at the beginning of milking, during the first week of a calf’s life because, just like a woman, cows retain water and that in their udders. It normally is found on the back and bottom of the udders and, if a bad case, in front of the udders before the abdominal wall. The area will feel hard and heavy like a thick strip of leather, rather than soft and thin as udders normally feel. It will be difficult to milk and you may get just a bit out at a milking. That’s edema–nothing serious, just temporary water retention related to pregnancy. It will go away, you need to patiently milk through it.
The best way to test to see if the problem is edema is called “the fingerprint test”. If you press your fingertip into the hardened area on the udder, your finger should sink it and, when you take it away, the impression should remain. If that’s what you see, then it’s surely edema.
There is no cure for it…just wait until your cow recovers from pregnancy and gets back to normal. It will go away. However, the next time she’s pregnant remember that by avoiding too much SALT you can keep edema away.