The dry period is an opportunity for rest and repair

"A dairy farmer washing down his parlour after evening milking in Co. Wexford. "
"A dairy farmer washing down his parlour after evening milking in Co. Wexford. "

The dry period is an opportunity for cows to recover from the previous lactation and get ready for the next lactation.

It allows time to address any nutritional imbalance, variation in cow body condition or herd health issues.

"A line up of clusters in a milking parlour."

"A line up of clusters in a milking parlour."

Hoof care, flukicide administration and the administration of routine vaccinations such as calf scour vaccinations or Bovilis IBR Marker Live to boost protection against IBR, can all be undertaken during this time.

What is the optimal dry period length?

The optimal dry period is the period of rest for the dairy cow that will maximise milk production in the next lactation while maintaining metabolic stability and low Somatic Cell Count (SCC). A minimum 60-day dry period aids in the maximisation of milk yield in subsequent lactations, particularly in heifers entering their second lactation.

What is the optimal BCS of cows at dry-off?

It is recommended that cows are dried off at the body condition score at which they will be at calving. The ideal body condition score (BCS) for dairy cows pre-calving is 3.0 - 3.25. Cows that are too thin can struggle to go back in calf after calving and to produce adequate quantities of milk in the ensuing lactation. Fat dry cows are predisposed to a range of metabolic disease, such as milk fever, after calving.

Selective Dry Cow Therapy (DCT) is only an option for herds meeting very particular criteria.

DCT offers the opportunity to cure existing infections in the udder and reduce the onset of new infections.

One commonly used dry cow antibiotic containing cefalonium has a licence to reduce the SCC in the subsequent lactation. Reducing the amount of antibiotics used on farm is a real challenge farmers are facing in every aspect of health management from calf to cow.

Selective DCT, as an alternative to blanket DCT, is an option for reducing the amount of antibiotic intramammaries that are used in dairy cows but is not suitable for all herds. Veterinary consultation should be sought before deciding that selective DCT is a suitable option for any individual farm. Selective DCT therapy may be a viable option for herds with the following:

- Consistently low SCC’s (below 150,000 cells/ml)

- Individual milk recordings

- Attention given to the data generated by individual milk recordings

- Precise recording of all clinical mastitis cases

- Knowledge of the bacterial agents commonly associated with mastitis on the individual farm

The Drying-off Technique

- Identify those animals for drying off and those for culling based on BCS, SCC and milk yield. Dry off cows when yield drops to 8 – 10 litres/day or lower.

- High yielding cows will require a reduction in the energy density of the diet, in an attempt to reduce milk production prior to the drying-off date.

- Dry cows off abruptly in batches at a BCS of 3 - 3.25 and remove from the milking herd immediately.

- Turn off the phone and avoid distractions. This procedure requires the farmer’s full attention and concentration. Allow sufficient time for the dry off procedure and don’t rush!

- Segregate cows to be dried off into one group and milk them out fully at the end of milking.

- Do not undertake foot trimming at the same time. This risks bacterial transfer to the udder.

- Ensure hands are clean and dry and wear disposable gloves.

- Teats must be cleaned with commercial wipes and dried before the dry cow tube is inserted. The teats furthest away are cleaned first followed by the nearest.

- Partly insert the tube end into the teat canal. Treat all four quarters - the teats nearest first followed by those furthest away.

- Teat sealant, used on most farms, should be deposited in the teat rather than allowing it to enter the gland.

- Teat dip or spray is essential after the dry cow tube is inserted to remove any bacteria which may be a source of new infection.

Apply after drying off and for two weeks thereafter. Apply teat dip during the two weeks prior to calving also.

- Mark the cow with a large paint mark visible during milking and make sure she is segregated from the milking herd.

- Cows should stand for at least a one-hour period after drying off in an area that is clean and dry.

- Record animal identity, drying off date and dry cow product used and its withdrawal period. This is critical information in case a cow calves early.

- Monitor for signs of mastitis regularly during the dry period.

Getting management of the dry period right is essential. Done correctly it is an opportunity to deal with current udder infections and prevent new infections establishing.

Meticulous attention to detail such as DCT selection and hygiene are key to cow health as well as to the success of the next lactation.