Well planned drying off programme is foundation for a healthy herd
A lot of thought and time should be dedicated to drying off - as what is done now can significantly affect a cow's ability to be profitable next year
The time of year has come again where our attention becomes focused on drying off cows.
The dry period is the time a cow needs to prepare for her next lactation.
A minimum of 60 days is recommended so cows calving in January should be dried off now.
A lot of thought and time should be dedicated to drying off as what is done now can significantly affect a cow's ability to be profitable next year.
What tube should I use? Every farm is different and every year is different. What works in a neighbour's herd may not work in yours. Similarly, what was effective in your own herd last year may not be as effective this year. Tube selection should be based on diagnostics: i.e. a number of samples taken from high SCC cows will be sent by your vet to the lab in order to determine what bacteria are present in the herd and what antibiotics will work effectively. Samples should be taken carefully and hygienically as any contamination can affect the accuracy of results.
Should I use a teat sealer?
The simple answer is yes. If we think about it, the only way bacteria can enter the udder is through the teat end.
Without a sealer, we are relying on the cow to form a natural seal after drying off. Studies have shown that 50 days after drying off, one in five cows will have teat canals open to infection.
The highest risk of developing mastitis during the dry period is in the days before calving. Using a sealer correctly will ensure that the teat canal remains closed until the cow is calved and the sealer is removed. The cost of using a sealer in a 100 cow herd can be up to €500.
However, if we consider the price of replacing one cow that develops e-coli mastitis at calving to be €1500, then using a sealer would seem very cost effective.
It can't be stressed enough how important it is to take your time when drying off cows.
Hearing the rain hopping off the roof in the morning should not trigger the decision to dry cows off that day. It should be planned a day or two in advance and plenty of time allotted so that no one is in a rush.
Drying off is not a one-person job. There should be a least be two people present - one person opens the tubes and hands them to the other person who administers them. A third person can often be needed to restrain any unco-operative participants.
One person's wages for the day is far cheaper than a trip to A&E with a broken hand or nose. Also, it is well worth showing anyone helping how you would like things to be done. Don't assume everyone knows what they should be doing.
Cleanliness is of the utmost importance. Wipe each teat individually. Remember, one wipe per teat.
Personally, I prefer cotton wool and surgical spirit. Wear gloves.
Drying off cows in groups of 10-15 is ideal.
Anyone who has dried off cows will tell you that by cow number 15, you are well fed up of the task. Complacency can set-in after this, short cuts will be taken and this will ultimately lead to a greater risk of cows developing mastitis before calving.
Mark each cow that has been dried off so that she is clearly visible. We have heard horror stories where cows that been recently dried off have mixed with cows still milking.
A can of marker spray is a very minimal expense compare to a fine for antibiotic milk entering the tank.
Record each tag number, the tube used and the date of drying off. This is useful if a cow calves down earlier than intended.
Selective dry cow therapy
This is a hot topic of conversation at the moment. It involves the selection of cows with a low cell count, usually below 150,000, and only using a sealer on these cows at drying off.
A very recent milk recording should be used, i.e. within the last three weeks, as any longer period leaves too much time for cell counts to fluctuate. The strictest hygiene procedures should be adhered to.
If even a speck of dirt enters the teat canal, then we are effectively putting bacteria into the cow's quarter and closing the door behind it, allowing it to brew for the dry period with a resulting mastitis at or even before calving.
Discuss with your vet whether selective dry cow therapy is suitable for your herd.
Remember, the infection risk during the dry period is up to seven times higher than during lactation.
This highlights just how important it is to dry off cows correctly.
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