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Tips To Maximize Nipple Life

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Developed by Rob Costello
Technical Specialist 
Merrick’s Super Calf Nipples are made of natural rubber which provides excellent resistance to wear caused by cleaning and sanitizing chemicals as well as physical wear due to calves sucking and chewing on the nipples. Even so, the situation on each farm can have a significant effect on nipple wear. Variation in nipple life can be caused by variations in feeding, cleaning, sanitizing and storage protocols.  
Even under the best conditions, nipples eventually wear out. The continued effects of chemical and physical action leads to swelling of the tip, thinning of the walls and elongation of the body of the nipple, loss of material strength, some splitting and tearing at the X-cut at the end of the nipple and eventual milk leakage. By following a few tips and guidelines on nipple care, the impact of chemical and physical agents can be reduced and long nipple life assured.
1.   Use a gentle detergent to clean nipples. A wide variety of procedures and products are used to clean nipples – some good, some not so good. A common approach is to place the nipples in the same wash vat used to clean the milking system pipeline. With this method, nipples are cleaned when the milking system is cleaned. This may be simple and effective, but pipeline detergents and acids can be hard on natural rubber nipples.
The procedures used on our research farm were designed to provide effective cleaning and sanitizing action without subjecting nipples to harsh chemicals. Our process is simple and involves washing nipples (and bottles) in a gentle dishwashing detergent. We use a common brand purchased at a local grocery store. Nipples soak in the detergent water for about 5 minutes and are removed. The wash temperature is typically about 125 – 135° F. 
2.   Use a gentle and effective sanitizing solution. Chlorine, chlorhexidine and iodine are commonly used to sanitize nipples. They are harsh chemicals which pull out the natural oils in the rubber, causing the nipples to dry out. Products should be mixed according to label instructions, and nipples should not be allowed to soak for long periods in these solutions. Nipples should be removed promptly and allowed to air dry.
After nipples are removed from the detergent solution on our research farm, they are placed directly into a dilute chlorhexidine solution. We use 8 oz. of 2% chlorhexidine for each 10 gallons of water.  Water temperature is about 125 – 135° F. Nipples remain in this solution for about 2 minutes.
3.   Remove nipples promptly from solutions.  Nipples should not be allowed to soak for long periods of time. A normal characteristic of rubber is that it swells when left in water, so immersion time should be short. After nipples have soaked for a few minutes in the chlorhexidine solution, they are removed and placed on a rack to air-dry, where they remain until the next feeding.
4.   Remove bottles and nipples promptly from the hutches after calves have finished drinking. The amount of time a calf sucks and chews on a nipple after emptying their bottle can greatly affect nipple life. Their sucking and chewing actions cause the walls of the nipple body to thin and elongate. This idle time after drinking should therefore be kept to a minimum.  
5.  Pay attention to subtle changes in feeding, cleaning and sanitizing protocols.
Minor changes can have significant effects on nipple life. For example, changes in the concentration of cleaning or sanitizing agents used, exposure time, and the amount of time calves suck and chew on the nipples after emptying their bottles are some common sources of change in nipple life. A small change can have a significant effect when you consider how many times a nipple goes through the feeding and cleaning cycle. These are areas where slight adjustments in protocol can improve nipple life.  
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