Dry Cow Management

Article by Dr. Dan Ryan  published in the Farming Independent ,Tuesday October 25th, 2011

The past month has resulted in excellent grass growth and grazing conditions on many farms.  The milk price for butterfat and protein has resulted in cows producing milk from grazed grass without any extra concentrate supplementation.

Farmers are being advised to take the above approach in cost-efficient milk production.  However, my farm visits over the past four weeks have revealed that in excess of 70% of cows are below the target body condition score (BCS) for the stage of the reproductive cycle.

It was a pleasure to scan a dairy herd in  Co. Cork where only one cow in a group of 60 cows was below the target BCS.  This farmer was still averaging 20 litres per cow last week.  Cows on this farm have been supplemented with in excess of 2kg of ration per day since early September.  The empty rate after the first 13 weeks of breeding was 13% which was acceptable for the type of herd involved and solely dependent on the use of AI.

It is now time to consider dry cow management on many dairy farms.  The risk of a superlevy is high on the agenda on many farms visited.  Empty cows and late calvers next spring will not be milked through the winter this year.

It is foolish not to have quota available for cows calving next February and March.  Suggestions of once-a-day milking, no ration supplementation either on grazed grass or silage for freshly calved cows is a recipe for disaster in next year’s breeding programme.

Plan your dairy cow management now.  If you are faced with a superlevy next spring ensure you prioritise cows for drying off.  Identify cows in poor BCS, lame cows and first lactation cows as candidates for drying off now.  This will enable them to achieve the desired BCS before they are 7 months pregnant.

I have had some reports of farmers not using dry cow therapy this year in order to keep down costs.  This is an unacceptable management practice given the risks of mastitis, animal welfare issues  and production losses next spring.  Research supports the benefits of using dry cow therapy and teat sealers.

Silage analysis for feed value and required supplementation is essential for dry cow management.  Remember that success in next year’s breeding programme depends on your actions now.  Good quality silage with a mineral supplement sprinkled on top of the silage will meet the needs of the cow through the dry period until she is within 3 weeks of calving. Thereafter, supplementation with post-calving ration readjusted for dry cow mineral requirements will be beneficial to improve function post-calving for the high production type cow.

The dry cow period encompassing the final eight weeks of pregnancy requires a top quality silage.  Farmers make the mistake of feeding poor quality silage to the dry cow and the better quality to the freshly calved cow.  Poor quality silages fed to dry cows in the latter stages of pregnancy result in BCS loss and poor uterine repair post-calving.  When the cow calves the womb is like an accordion in full stretch.  The objective in good dry cow management is to achieve a rapid collapse of the accordion in the first two weeks post- calving. Failure to achieve rapid repair of the womb enables establishment of infections.  These are typically seen as dirty discharges from the vagina. However, there will be a negative impact of this event on subsequent reproductive performance.

One of the big offenders in uterine repair post calving is high potassium silages.  These can arise  primarily from either soil contamination of ensoiled grass  by cutting grass too close to the soil level or slurry spread on silage ground with contamination of grass siled.  Some farmers feed Cal-Mag pre-calving to prevent this problem.  Prevention is better than cure!

Liverfluke and stomach fluke have created havoc on animal performance in many herds this year.  Have you a problem with your herd?  Dung samples and bulk milk analysis will indicate the severity of the problem.  The dry cow period is an excellent opportunity to address this problem.  Follow recommendations to get control of immature liver fluke.  One drench may not be enough.  Another issue arising is the resistance of flukicides.  Consult with your vet on worm and fluke management.

Finally, this is an opportune time to evaluate your herd health status.  Many farmers will have 3 milk samples analysed for various infectious diseases during the year.  Interpretation of results is difficult for a lot of farmers.  Act now to ensure the proper vaccination programme is in place for your herd.  Vaccination programmes will not be effective if there are underlying herd stressors such as stomach and liver fluke.

In conclusion, dry cow management will dictate the success of  your breeding programme next year.  Feed good quality silage with mineral supplementation for your herd’s requirement.  Maintain a healthy cow to enable  effective vaccination programmes.

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