In this article, Dr Jane Sayers, CAFRE dairying adviser, discusses drying off dairy cows.
The dry period is an essential stage of the dairy cow’s milk production cycle.
Make a suitable length of time available between lactations to ensure the udder and mammary systems recover, a healthy calf is born, and a subsequent productive lactation is achieved.
Effective dry cow management should address several key areas, namely:
- Dry cow treatment;
- Length of the dry period;
- Body condition and nutrition of the dairy cow.
Drying off dairy cows
Research has shown that a dry period of at least 60 days is the most economical and optimum for health, fertility, and milk production.
Furthermore, dairy cows, dry for fewer than 40 days, will have a reduced milk output of at least 250 kgs milk in the following lactation. It is very important to consider the drying off treatment.
Selective dry cow therapy
From January 2022, dairy farmers will be required to move away from blanket dry cow therapies and adopt a more selective approach based on infection levels within individual cows.
Reducing antibiotic usage, as well as being a potential cost-saving, is aimed at slowing the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Selective dry cow therapy involves administering a dry cow tube only to cows with infection during lactation.
The remaining cows will receive an internal teat sealant only as a preventative against infection getting into the udder during the dry cow period.
Many dairy farms in Northern Ireland have adopted the process with great success.
However, it is not without risk. Therefore, you must plan the process properly planned and executee with your adviser’s and vet’s help.
It cannot be overemphasised how important milk recording is for successfully implementing selective dry cow therapy on your farm.
At the CAFRE Greenmount Dairy Centre, milk recording highlights cows with somatic cell counts (SCC) over 200,000 in any of the last three recordings.
Treat with an antibiotic tube plus teat sealant. Cows identified with SCC less than 200,000 receive only a teat sealant.
Reduce the amount of concentrates fed for one week before drying off cows that are yielding more than 10 litres of milk per day.
Do not practice once per day milking to reduce yields as this can increase the incidence of mastitis.
Drying off cows: Best practice
In an ideal situation, cows that have been selected for drying off should be milked, removed from the herd, put through a clean milking parlour again and dry cow therapy applied. This is to minimise the risk of infection during the drying off procedure.
Disinfect all four teats with surgical spirits.
If using dry cow tubes, start at the most distant teats and then the nearest ones to avoid contamination.
When you insert the tube into each teat, depress the plunger and massage teat upwards.
If using a teat sealant product, follow a similar procedure but do not massage the teats. Ensure the cows are made to stand for at least 30 minutes to ensure closure of the teat canal.
The cow’s udder is very susceptible to infection after drying off, and, therefore, you should keep the cow in a clean area.
Check the udder regularly for any secretions. Avoid grazing dry cows in wooded areas during late summer. They may be susceptible to dry cow mastitis (felon) due to the greater number of flies in the area at this time of year.
The dry period is also a useful time to administer routine vaccinations, parasite controls and boluses as there is no danger of milk contamination.
Examine the cow’s feet and treat accordingly.
Record the drying off date and the quantity and type of antibiotic in a veterinary record.
Take care with drying off, and the dry cow period will pay dividends in the subsequent lactations.
For more farming tips and technical advice, read more articles from CAFRE.