Improved weather has enabled farmers to keep cows out by day and indeed by night on drier ground. Grazing conditions have been excellent.  However, the feed value of grazed grass has been overestimated for cows on many farms.

Supplementation with concentrates is justified where body condition scores (BCS) are below target in preparation for the upcoming dry cow period. Why dry cows off early when there is an opportunity to harvest milk with high solids at up to 35 cents per litre?

Some farmers will dry cows off early with the presumption that they will gain BCS. Previous experience has shown that these cows are often neglected in terms of silage and grass quality.  In addition, either supplemental concentrates or minerals are fed to requirement.  There is currently a demand by processors for fresh milk.  Take advantage of the increased milk price and potential profit from producing this late lactation milk with grazed grass as a primary ingredient.

Many farmers look forward to ceasing milk production in early December with a resumption in late January with fresh calvers. It is important that you start preparing now for management practices integral to optimization of the dry cow period.

The art of drying off cows still varies tremendously. It is a stressful period for the cows.  Some farmers continue to put the cows on once a day regime for 2 weeks prior to the dry off.  A regime of straw and restricted feeding for a week before dry off is used by others.  Finally, some farmers use an abrupt dry off where cows are milked in the morning and then dried off.

In the first instance, you should have a pregnancy scan report which gives you the due dry off and calving dates. You need to inspect your cows now to get an accurate assessment of cows with poor locomotion and BCS.

Allow a 12 week dry cow period for first lactation cows plus cows with poor locomotion and BCS. You need to group these cows so that you can ensure they get the attention required to achieve the ideal health status for the final 8 weeks of pregnancy.  This situation arises now as most farmers will not be in a position to allocate these compromised cows the attention required in lactation.

A range of therapies at dry off include the use of intramammary antibiotics either with or without a teat sealer, teat sealer alone or none of the above. Best dry off therapies include restricted dry matter and water intakes for periods up to one week.  Unfortunately, we have no scientifically supported dry off regime used as standard practice in the dairy industry.

Cows cannot afford to lose BCS during this dry off regime. There are indeed some farmers reducing the dry cow period to 6 weeks, where there is increased risk of an impact on uterine involution post calving if cows are stressed during the dry cow period.

At European level, there is increased concern of the risk of anti-bacterial resistance. This indeed has to be addressed as an issue in our use of intramammary antibiotics.  Suggestions that antibiotics for intramammary use be banned will in its own right create many animal welfare issues.

The dairy industry has to be pro-active in developing a balanced approach which is scientifically supported to address the welfare needs of cows and the need to reduce the risk of anti-microbial resistance. Current management practices will have to change.

The implications of stress alone imposed during the dry off period may have a knock on effect on subsequent uterine involution post calving, which is related to both health risks and reproductive performance.

The opportunity to refrain from use of intramammary antibiotics in the dry off period has to centre on cows, which are healthy at the time of drying off. Give consideration to the following points:

  • Cows must be in an ideal BCS with no locomotion concerns.
  • Somatic cell counts and previous history of mastitis must not pertain.
  • Herd health concerns, which will compromise the immune system such as liver and stomach fluke, IBR and Johne’s disease must be under control.

A primary consideration in this preventative health regime when maximising the use of dry cow intramammary antibiotics is the feeding of fresh high quality silage supplemented with dry cow minerals and vitamins. Source your minerals and vitamins from a company with an excellent reputation, ISO standards and nutritional support to create diets, which optimise immune function. Dry cow therapy without intramammary antibiotics is feasible when this management regime is implemented in conjunction with your nutritionist and vet.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at www.

Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent 8th November 2016.

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