Milking Out a Dry Cow With Mastitis

For all you non-cow or non-milk lovers out there, warning, “Avert your eyes!”

For all you cow and milk lovers out there, warning, “Don’t let this happen to you! Ahhhh!”

Poor Annabelle always has uneven quarters which don’t seem to dry up empty in past years, but I never knew if something was wrong. I have been keeping an eye on her pretty closely, since she had a bout of mastitis before I dried her up. I have not wanted to mess with her udder much, for fear she would let milk down, but recently she has had a very chapped and rough bag, and her left quarter in the back is the one which has remained pretty full since I dried her up. I have been putting lanolin and coconut oil on it, which has helped, but last night some clearish liquid began streaming out of that quarter, and it felt warm. All I could think of was when whey separates from curdled milk, and I wanted to get it out of there.

I searched and searched for information on if I should milk that stuff out, but could not find anything. I did learn a lot about one of my milking mistakes, and that is that I have not been using a teat dip. Most teat dips have chlorhexidine and other yucky stuff, so I have stayed away from them and just use my udder balm with lanolin, coconut oil, and tea tree oil, but obviously it is not enough.

I learned that mastitis occurs when bacteria enter the teat canal, and it is very important to use a teat dip, before and after milking, and especially when you dry up a cow. A dry cow does form a seal at the end of her teat when she is dry, but not all cows are successful, and the teat plug can become dislodged, allowing bacteria to enter. I prefer to go with an iodine teat dip, and most are a 10% povidone iodine solution which is a 1% titratable iodine concentration. Again, I could not find an iodine teat dip that did not have a bunch of other junk in it, and that was expensive, so I am ordering just 10% povidone iodine, and have changed my udder balm formulation to help with circulation and bacteria/virus control.

For those of you interested in iodine and why it is so vital, for humans and animals, this site is a great place to start, and then get this book, Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It, from Dr. Brownstein.

Finally in my search on if I can and should milk her out, I happily found this site, Organic Meadow Co-operative. This section on livestock healthcare had my answers.

“…The Dry Cow

The drying-off period is a stressful time for cows and is therefore a critical time for udder health. Making sure the cow has a strong immune system, including the use of immune-boosting products, can help. Dr. Richard J. Holliday, a well-respected holistic vet from Missouri, recommends preparing the cow’s immune system and then simply quitting milking her. Milking her out during this time only prolongs to process.

When the udder swelling begins to recede after five or six days, however, he recommends milking out the udder. Normal milk lets you know that the udder is healthy. Abnormal milk indicates the need for treatment, and the udder should be stripped out every few days for as long as necessary to clear the problem. Drying off the cow when she has an infection means that she will probably still have the same problem when she freshens.

Dr. Holliday also recommends “pre-milking” the cow when she has bagged up two or three weeks before freshening. If the fluid shows any signs of infection, treat the cow and milk her out twice a day until she calves. Cornell University research has shown that “pre-milking” reduces mastitis and milk fever by up to 50%. The cow will not produce colostrum until just prior to calving, so there is no worry about not having colostrum for the calf if the cow is pre-milked.

Dr. Holliday notes that these procedures will tell a farmer 100 percent more about udder health than the conventional practice of dry-treating and waiting until freshening to see if it worked…”

I also found the wonderful, original article by Dr. Holliday, which has more detail on mastitis and udder health.

So I milked her out and treated her, and will continue to do so until it clears up.

This is what her bag looked like before I cleaned her up.


and from the back you can see that her left rear quarter is swollen and that her skin is very rough and chapped.


I begin with warm water with colloidal silver in it, and wash her well with a microfiber cloth.


I feel bad that I let her skin get so dry. My friend Meike has had great success with giving vitamin A to clear up a dry and cracked udder in a few days, but I don’t have any today.


I also did not have straight 10% povidone iodine, but only trio dine which we use on wounds, or banding lambs… and it has 2.4% titratable iodine which I fear might be too strong and might sting, so I dilute it with warm water and colloidal silver. I also have proper teat dip cups on order, but mason jars work in a pinch.


To my regular “Annabalm” which is coconut oil and lanolin, I added, peppermint oil (for circulation), and tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, oregano oil, eucalyptus oil, for antibacterial and anti virus. For extreme cases of cracking and dryness add more lanolin than coconut oil than the usual 50/50 combination.


Massage it into her entire bag, not just her teats, and this will help the essential oils penetrate into her bag and help with circulation and expel the infection.


This is what came out of her front right quarter, which was the one she had mastitis in before I dried her up.


and the other two quarters in the back I just milked into this same jar, and it was free of mastitis and was just milk, but mixed with what came out of the front quarter, it is still gross.


I was able to milk out over a half gallon of really gross liquid from her swollen back quarter, and there was no clumps of milk. The technical term for this stuff is serous exudate, and it had no odor, but will definitely turn your stomach. Poor Annabelle! She seemed very happy for me to get that out of there, whew! I made sure to go inside the house often and wash my hands well, before milking any other quarters, so not to cross contaminate.


After completely stripping each teat I dipped her in the iodine solution again.


an liberally applied the udder bam, massaging her whole bag well, and making sure enough was on the teat openings.


It is apparent the the top part of her left rear quarter is swollen. I was able to get out all the liquid from her bag, and hopefully in the next few days her swelling will go down. I will continue to milk out that quarter twice a day until she is all healed up.


I also gave her the homeopathic remedy, pulsatilla, thanks to my smart friend Kelli. πŸ˜‰

22 thoughts on “Milking Out a Dry Cow With Mastitis

  1. HI,

    My jersey cow calved about 4 weeks ago. She has been giving very little milk(no more than a gallon and half).

    Her back quarters are red and hot but not really swollen.

    and one of the front quarters is really hard and very little milk comes out.

    The other front quarter is the only one that seems normal(most milk comes out).

    The milk from all quarters comes out nice and white.

    I dont know what to do, she is producing very little milk.

    Any advice?

    • Hi Juan, yes, I do have some advice. First of all, your best resource is this cow forum: and the cow people on there are very smart and helpful. You will learn a lot there, and can ask many questions. But I have some questions for you, and you should take these questions and answers and post them on that cow forum, for more answers. First off, do you have the calf still nursing your cow, and how many times a day do you milk your cow? It does sound like she may have mastitis, and it is very helpful to know what type of bacteria you are dealing with, as many antibiotics do not work on different strains of bacteria. You need to get her milk tested by a lab, and I would take sterile samples from all four quarters, and have them run a bacteria id, so you know what bacteria you are dealing with. How long have you had your Jersey, how old is she, and have you milked a cow before? Do you hand milk, or machine milk? The one quarter that is hard, has it always been hard since she freshened, or has this come on recently? That quarter may be a blind quarter from mastitis last birthing, if it has never produced, but if it recently became hard and slow, then you need to milk her out and strip that quarter as many times a day as possible, and massage a lot, to see if you can get any of that out of there. If she is not letting out all of her milk for you, then you need to massage more and really get it out of there. The more often you milk her (such as leaving the calf on her and milking twice a day) will increase her production, and perhaps have her let down more for you. If she really does not let down, you might want to give some oxytocin a try. See if you can answer some of these questions and we can help you on the forum, where you will get lots of other advice. Good luck with her! πŸ™‚

  2. This article is so helpful. I have a Jersey cow. Her bag is always high. Fluid was brownish yesterday from back teet. She won’t let down her milk for 2nd calf to reduce bag. SoI used cannula to get milk. Will not let milk down on 2 teets even with needle. Just had baby 5 days ago. I will try to milk out by hand and call vet. Thank you so much. You are quite a woman.

    • Oh Penny! Thank you for commenting, and I am very sorry to say, that brownish milk from a cow fresh only 5 days is serious. Please do try and strip out those teats as many times a day as you can. There is a wonderful family cow forum with very smart cow people who can help you get good advice. Please do post there, and pictures… I really hope that you get help, and I strongly suggest taking a sample of her milk and have it tested by a lab. What bacteria she is dealing with is important to know, for treatment.

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  4. I have a jersey cow that has one calf on her .Her milk got salty on the 2 udders on one side that the calf didn’t suck.I gave her her alfafy hay and milked her 2 times a day for several days but then her bag became lopsided .I was sick for 2 days and couldn’t milk her .Last friday she would’t let me touch her but Saturday I milked her she had lots of clumps in one of the udder on the side that calf won’t suck .she acts like she doesn’t want her calf to suck.calling vet today .would appreciate feedback

    • I’m sorry about your girl, Billy. Yes, if her milk is getting salty, and the calf won’t drink on those quarters she has mastitis brewing. Since you could not milk her out because you were sick, she now has a pretty bad case, and won’t let you or the calf touch her because she is hurting. I’m glad the vet is going to see her. She will probably get some antibiotics, but you do need to milk out those quarters several times a day, maybe putting a warm cloth on her hard parts and massaging to get the clumps out. Use an iodine based teat dip before and after milking, and a good udder balm, with tea tree oil in it. It takes work to get that out of her, but I hope she gets better very soon.

  5. Are you going to use the 10% povidone iodine, without anything added, as a teat dip? If you did, how has it worked? Thank you

    • Hi Samantha. Yes, I use this iodine as an udder wash first, diluted in warm water when I wash her udder down, then dry well. Then I use this iodine full strength as a pre-milking and post-milking teat dip, using a teat dip cup. I let the dip stay on for about 15 seconds, then wipe dry. I always use my coconut oil /lanolin / essential oil udder balm after this, just a little before milking, and liberally after milking to make sure her teats and udder are soft and do not chap. After milking and the udder balm, is when I do the final iodine teat dip.

  6. Thank you for all the great info! I am currently dealing with our first case of cow mastitis. I have most of the EO’s you suggested. How many drops per how much oil is my question. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Anna. The real key to heading off mastitis is to milk her out as many times a day as you can (at least three.) Make sure you use a good iodine based teat dip before milking (wait about 20 to 30 seconds after dipping to wipe off) and then of course squirt out at least 5 good squirts before actual milking. (Don’t squirt milk directly on the ground, as you could be spreading infection.) Make sure you use the iodine based teat dip after milking as well. I use probably about 20 drops of EO’s, or maybe more. Let me know how she is doing, and good luck!

      • Thanks! I made a salve for her and a friend came over with her CA mastitis test as well as her knowledge and some peppermint cream. Since our dear Butter is our first cow, we have much to learn. Our cow friend and neighbor told me that she was likely just having a little chunk in her milk due to drying off. She is due in two months and we had been drying her off. She said she would just stop milking her at this point. Today, Miss Butters cream line was over half the jar and my friend told me that her cows always have more cream when they are drying. I guess I’m just being an over reacting cow newbie. I will continue to use the cream and ACV in her water as well as checking for any heat in her udder until the calf is here.
        Thanks again!

        • Oh, I did not know you were trying to dry her up. That is SO hard with a high producing cow. How much is she producing? At this point, you just have to bite your lip, do teat her, and try and leave her alone for at least 5 days, until you see that her bag is going down. She won’t explode, but you do want to try and not touch her too much so she lets her milk down. Then you can milk her out one last time if you want. Beware, that when you do, the milk will be salty, and nasty looking and broken down. The CMT or other mastitis indicators will look positive. What I did not know is that they indicate a high somatic cell count, which she is making to help break down her last milk and the fat to reabsorb it, not necessarily an indicator of bacteria causing mastitis, so don’t freak out. I’m sure she is fine. Best of luck to you, and let me know how she is doing. πŸ™‚

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  8. I would not recommend “drying off” a cow with mastitis without treatment (yikes!). She should either be stripped several times daily along with homeopathics/essential oils/probiotics to encourage healing OR treated with a suitable dry cow medicine such as SpectraMast DC. Using a dry cow treatment will give you a very high success rate that she will be clean/clear at calving time (with consideration that if it’s Staph Aureus, it may or may not 100% disappear with treatment). “Natural” remedies may be sufficient for a mild case, but if you’re seeing separation (curds and whey versus smooth milky normal) then she has an active case that needs immediate treatment. If the infection is not cleared up and the cow is completely dried off, you risk her calving in as a chronic mastitis case, most of which tend to be fatal. If treated and cleared up, pre-milking should NOT be necessary (or advised) and you can rest assured you’ve done all you can to keep your pretty lady healthy. πŸ™‚ Good luck with your cow, I hope she heals up well.

    • You are so dear to comment! I found your website looking up milk fever, and you are such a wealth of information, thank you. I did milk and strip her out several times a day to clear her up from the mild mastitis she had. What I never had known, which I recently found out from your website, is about 5 days after stopping milking, when her bag is going down, to then milk her out so she does not have to reabsorb all that milk. I love that idea and will do it in the future. Since I did not do that, she did have a lot of fluid in that one quarter, and I followed Dr. Richard Holliday’s great advice, and she seems to be all healed up. Her calf is due July 1st, so we shall see.

      • I’m glad you were able to find some information to help you with your cow. That’s what it’s there for!! Except my (free/cheap) website is not nearly as nice as yours! πŸ™‚ Good luck with the future calving, that’ll be a toasty hot time to calve, but by the time she’s ready to breed, it’ll be nice cooler weather.

        • Thank you. I am sure I will be needing your site again and again, especially since we are going to try and AI this breeding cycle. It’s funny to think of July or August as a toasty hot time, here anyway. We still can freeze during July! Ha! All my garden starts are inside on my counter. πŸ™‚ I just got the 12 stone free-choice ABC minerals today and I think that will really help all the cows.

    • Thank you dear Hilda for your kind words. Unfortunately, with me, it is mostly trial and error, and many tear filled calls to dear, experienced friends. I still mourn my first cow, who suffered and died by my lack of knowledge of milk fever, and so much more that I wish I knew then, but am grateful to know now. A family dairy cow is the heartbeat of life. πŸ™‚

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