Make the most of the dry period to improve udder health during lactation

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Do you find more than 10% of your cows calve in with a somatic cell count of more than 200,000 cells per ml?

Do more than one in 10 of your cows have a positive CMT test at four days post calving?

Have more than one in 12 of your cows developed mastitis in the first 30 days of lactation?

If you answered yes to any of these three questions, it’s worth reviewing your dry cow management.

Research shows a link between infection during the dry cow period, and both clinical mastitis and elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) in early lactation.

Infections enter the udder via the teat end during the dry period, but do not manifest as a case of mastitis (or subclinical mastitis) until lactation begins; it’s been shown that up to 60% of all new intra-mammary infections during the first 100 days of lactation are in fact acquired during the dry period.

“It’s clear that the dry period is important in optimising udder health,” says Zoetis vet Dr Carolyn Hogan, “so it’s worth reviewing your dry cow management process to ensure you maximise the benefit.”

Assess body condition score

Aim for body condition scores of 2.75-3 at drying off and 3-3.25 at calving.

Over-conditioned cows are at increased risk of negative energy balance in the transition period which can directly impact on the immune function of the cow.

High yielding cows

Cows giving 20 litres or more at drying off are more likely to pick up new infections and these may cause problems in the next lactation.

If you see a high percentage of cows leaking milk post drying off, it may be worthwhile altering your management. Some farmers have been successful in reducing energy/protein content of feed in the run up to drying off; specialist advice should be sought prior to altering your feeding strategy.

Hygiene at drying off

Drying off cows should be done as a separate job at the end of milking.

It is essential to scrub teat ends with cotton wool and methylated spirit before introducing antibiotic dry cow therapy or teat sealants to avoid introducing infectious pathogens.

Use OrbeSeal® to ‘seal up’

Use a teat sealant such as OrbeSeal® alongside your antibiotic dry cow therapy when advised by your vet.

The theory of using a combination of dry cow antibiotic and OrbeSeal where appropriate is that the antibiotic helps “clean up” any existing udder infections and OrbeSeal® “seals up” the teat, preventing new infections being picked up during the dry period, right up until calving. Why is this necessary?

Dr Hogan explained that during the dry period, a keratin plug forms in the teat canal as a natural defence mechanism.

However up to 50% of quarters may fail to develop a complete keratin plug; without it there is greater risk of bacteria entering the udder.

Teat sealants help supplement the natural keratin plug, but not all teat sealants are the same.

“Thanks to the scientifically proven properties of the silica component in OrbeSeal®, it moulds to the shape of the teat canal and creates a protective barrier against mastitis,” says Dr Hogan.

“Using OrbeSeal has been shown to reduce mastitis by on average 33%.”

After dry off measures

Keep the cows standing for 30 minutes after drying off to ensure the teat canals have closed before moving to the dry cow accommodation.

If possible, house recently dried off cows away from the sound of the parlour to help a rapid reduction in milk production.

Dry cow accommodation

Good dry cow cubicle management includes using mattresses which are bedded at least once daily and use of a disinfectant.

The dry cow cubicles need the same level of attention to cleanliness as the milking cow cubicles.

Hygiene at calving

Calving pens should be cleaned out regularly. It is a balance between providing older cows with enough grip to get up and avoiding build-up of infection in the calving pen. The bedded area for calving cows should be in the region of 15m.

Involve your vet

Your veterinary surgeon can help you identify which cows to sample for bacteriology and give you appropriate advice on treatment and prevention of clinical and subclinical mastitis.

The market leading dry cow teat sealant, OrbeSeal®, is now back in full supply. For further information please contact your vet.