Preparation for the dry period

Dry cow in optimum body condition score of 3.
Dry cow in optimum body condition score of 3.

Preparation for the dry period starts in late lactation to ensure cows are in the correct body condition score (BCS) and milk production is sufficiently reduced by drying-off.

Target BCS 3.0 at drying-off

Claire Beckett

Claire Beckett

Over or under-conditioned cows at calving are at greater risk of developing metabolic disorders such as ketosis, milk fever, retained placentas, displaced abomasum and endometris. Target BCS at drying-off is 3.0, with the goal to keep condition static throughout the dry period. Studies have shown that it is difficult to change BCS during the dry period; therefore, any amendments needed to correct BCS must be done prior to drying-off. Check BCS of cows eight weeks prior to drying-off and make amendments to the diet as necessary:

- Using NutriOpt Formulation Program, ½ BCS gain requires 1.5kg concentrate extra per day for eight weeks of lactation

- For over-conditioned cows and where production is less than the TMR is formulated to support, move to a group with a lower basal ration to avoid overfeeding.

Feed intake typically decreases by 33% over the course of the dry period, with 88% of the decrease occurring in the last week of the dry period. Cows that are unavoidably dried-off over-conditioned will need particular attention as their intakes pre and post-calving will be compromised even more so, therefore:

- Ensure sufficient feed space (at least 0.8m/cow)

- Ensure provision of highly palatable forages

- Increase concentrate supplementation in the close-up diet

- Consider supplementing with glucose based energy supplements, such as Glucosure; an excellent form of energy for transition cows

For thin cows, it is generally thought that overfeeding cows during the dry period to improve BCS increases the risk of metabolic issues at calving however, studies at AFBI Hillsborough showed that this could be done with no issues. Nevertheless, correcting BCS prior to drying-off is the most effective means of achieving target BCS, whilst minimising metabolic issues around calving. Furthermore, studies have shown that offering dry cow concentrate to thin cows can help improve immunity around calving. Drying cows off early and offering an extended dry period greater than 60 days has been shown to be effective at improving BCS during the dry period, however much of the condition gained tends to be lost again quickly after calving, therefore there are no beneficial effects of an extended dry period.

Less than 20 litres at drying-off

Milk yield should be reduced to less than 20 litres prior to drying-off to minimise risk of developing high somatic cell counts (SCC) and mastitis. For cows producing in excess of this, concentrate feeding should be reduced 7-14 days prior to drying–off, until milk yield is reduced to less than 20 litres. Avoid once-a-day milking as a strategy to reduce milk yield as this can increase SCC and risk of mastitis.

After drying-off cows should be moved away from sight or sound of the milking parlour, to minimise stimulation of milk production. If a cow leaks milk after drying-off, don’t be tempted to milk or tube the cow again. Ensure hygiene of cubicles by regular scrapping and bedding. It can also help to disinfect teats twice daily for 3-4 days after drying-off.

Summary

Making the necessary dietary adjustments prior to drying-off to ensure cows are dried-off at the correct BCS and milk yield, will greatly reduce the need for ‘special attention’ groups of cows during the dry period and risk of metabolic disorders occurring.