To hear some folks tell it, life on a dairy farm is quaint, a daily cavort through gentle breezes and charmed sunrises. Granted, there are times when I’m in awe at the scope of life on our small farm. But I’m here to tell you there is nothing magical about finding a wart on a cow’s teat. Finding a wart on the teats of two different cows is even less enchanting.
Late last summer, Wayne found an elongated wart on the right-rear quarter about a quarter-inch from the teat opening on Delila. A couple of days later, he noticed four cauliflower-shaped warts on another cow, Erin. Wayne made a note to have our area veterinarian investigate during the next herd health visit.
Because the visit was over a week away, he made sure that Delila and Erin were the last two cows to be milked to avoid spreading warts to the others. But that wasn’t enough for me. I tend to be a bit of a worry wart, and waiting around for nine days wasn’t going to soothe my worried soul. So, in an effort to be the master of my own sanity, I turned to the Merck Veterinary Manual online at www.merckvetmanual.com. It was short and to the point:
“Several strains of bovine papillomavirus cause the development of papillomas or fibropapillomas on teats. In some herds, pale, smooth, raised lesions develop frequently on teat skin and may persist indefinitely without causing problems. In other instances, filamentous or frond-like lesions develop at the teat orifice and interfere with milking. Bovine warts are spread by direct or indirect contact. Diagnosis is usually made presumptively based on examination of the lesion and exclusion of other causes. In many instances, treatment of warts is not necessary, but frond-like lesions that interfere with milking may require excision. The use of autogenous vaccines and virucidal teat dips may be recommended in herd outbreaks.”
While it wasn’t a ton of help, at least I could rest assured that the problem wasn’t one that would put us and our herd in dire straits. Still, I was impatient for information. We’re producers for Organic Valley. We take great pride in the quality of our milk. We worked hard and incurred a fair amount of debt ridding our herd of Johne’s disease. I wanted the warts gonenow, but all the “treatments” consisted of vaccines and virucidal teat dip that organic producers can’t use. We are limited in our treatment options, and even if we weren’t, I’m not a fan of corporate veterinary medicine. There was only one thing to docall Dr. Guy, Organic Valley’s in-house veterinarian and expert on natural veterinary care.
According to Dr. Guy, our treatment options were limited because of the ages of the cows. Warts on the teats of heifers are likely to disappear on their own. However, if the cow is over two-years old, the likelihood of a regression is almost nil. While there are homeopathic and natural topical treatments that may shrink the warts, nothing will completely cure the virus that causes warts. Sigh.
When the day finally rolled around for our scheduled herd-health check, I was knee-deep in work and worry. I needed to know how we were going to get rid of the warts on Delila and Erin, and how to stop the virus from spreading. Dr. Todd, our area veterinarian, was extremely helpful, but I had to face the hard factthe warts were going to be with us for a few more weeks. The only sure way to get rid of a wart without using drugs is to cut it out and throw a stitch in the teat afterward. This can’t be done while the cow is still milking.
Because the wart on Delila was in contact with the milker, Wayne decided to dry her up a month early. While both Dr. Guy and Dr. Todd agreed that the bovine papillomavirus could not affect humans, I’m uncomfortable putting milk in the tank that came in contact with a wart. Yuck. However, the wart on Erin was closer to the udder and the milker didn’t come in contact with it. Wayne kept her in the milking string.
So how did we end up with warts in our herd? We’re an award-winning family farm. We take great efforts to make sure our farm is disease-free and our animals are healthy and happy. Even so, our cows got warts. The bovine pappilomavirus enters through the skin through lesions. If a cow gets a cut, scrape, or even a minor abrasion from chapping, the virus can enter. Because Wayne inspects each cow twice a day, he was certain there were no wounds on either cows’ udder, but he did recall that each had chapped teats over the winter. He uses a product called Udder Fancy to treat chapped teats. Dr. Todd explained that by preventing chapping, we’d also be limiting exposure to the virus. It might cost us a few dollars upfront but in the long run, an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure if you add the cost of worrying to the equation. Worry warts are just as costly and hard to get rid of as cow warts. To date, no one has a magic wand to fully prevent or cure cow warts.
Hardcover copies of The Merck Veterinary Manual, 10th edition, are available from the Countryside Bookstore.