Most measurements of udder pressure are based on devices connected to the gland cistern via cannulas. These devices are either inserted in the teat canal or surgically implanted into the udder tissue. In this study, instead of invasively measuring intramammary udder pressure, we measured the udder firmness noninvasively on the udder surface via a dynamometer. These are commonly used in food research to determine crispiness and firmness of fruits. The objective of this study was to validate a hand-held dynamometer for measuring udder firmness in dairy cows. Specifically we set out to determine inter-investigator repeatability considering potential confounders such as investigator, location, and cow. Through modifications in the standard operating procedure for the measurements, inter-investigator repeatability increased from correlation coefficient=0.80 (n=275) to correlation coefficient=0.94 (n=634). Measurements in different locations within the left hind quarter revealed a firmness gradient from the upper to the lower measuring point. Measurements between the 4 quarters within a cow displayed differences, except between both hind quarters. In 94.8% of the udders, firmness decreased due to milking. The correlation coefficient, however, between firmness changes and milk yield was low (r=0.42, n=153). Our data provide evidence that the dynamometer, although imperfect, does provide a reasonable measure of udder firmness and can be a useful tool in research related to animal health and welfare. However, a standardized operating protocol should be followed to minimize confounding by investigator, location, and quarter.
Copyright © 2012 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.