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Wednesday 18 July 2018

Effective dry cow strategy essential for a profitable and healthy herd

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Mary Kinston

The prospect of drying-off some or all of the spring calving herd is on the horizon as we approach the end of the year.

Having an effective dry cow management strategy is an important step in establishing an easily managed and profitable low SCC herd in 2018.

It's a topic that may have been raised during completion of cell check workshops in recent weeks and here are a reminder of key points to remember before drying off the herd;

As a cow draws near the end of her lactation milk quality changes with a decrease in lactose levels and an increase in SCC associated with low-production

A dairy cow needs a minimum of six weeks and preferably eight weeks between drying off and calving to allow the udder tissue sufficient time to repair and rejuvenate

In late lactation we need to decide what dry cow treatment (DCT) to use, what cows to dry off early and which cows need to be culled based on this year's records

Two types of DCT exist: antibiotic and non-antibiotic in the form of sealers, and they are used to treat existing infections and reduce the number of new infections during the dry period. Consult with your vet on the best treatment option for your herd.

Blanket DCT means treating all quarters of the whole herd and selective DCT means treating selected cows

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Use milk recording and scanning results to dry off low producers (<0.6kgMS/day), high cell count cows early, low body condition early calvers and first calvers. The action to remove high SCC cows will help to lower the bulk tank SCC and reduce the spread of infection to others

Antibiotic DCT does not cure all existing infections, with cure rates being lower in older cows and highest in first lactation cows. CULLING

Culling is the only way to eliminate some chronic infections. Culling chronic infections especially in older cows is an essential step to protect healthy young cows.

Where high SCC cows are kept for economic reasons, if only one quarter is infected, dry off (do not milk) the quarter at the start of the next lactation and milk and identifier her as a 'three teater'.

Do not use DCT on cows to be culled immediately. If cows are culled after using DCT observe withholding periods

OAD Milking

Antibiotic DCT does not protect against environmental bacteria which may be introduced into the udder if administration is not done cleanly and carefully

Intermittent milking (OAD or skip-a-day) can increase the mastitis risk prior to dry-off, so dry-off abruptly

At the last milking teat dipping with disinfectant reduces the number of contagious mastitis bacteria on the skin

To do a good job with DCT, one person can handle no more than 20 cows per hour

Wash down the parlour between batches of cows to maximise cleanliness at time of treatment

A step before DCT administration is to clearly mark the cows that are to be treated using spray paint or tapes

Wear disposable gloves

Using a mixture of 70pc alcohol on cotton wool or teat wipes to disinfect whole teat and especially the teat end prior to administration of DCT

Keep tubes sterile and do not warm up in warm water as this increases the chance of contamination. Do not remove the tube cap until ready to administer the quarter in question

Dip teats with freshly made up teat disinfectant after treatment

Immediately after drying off put the cows in a dry clean paddock or dry clean cubicles. Do not allow them to lie down on bare ground or areas soiled with manure

Record the cow ID, date and product details of all DCT

Post drying-off

Do not walk cows long distances or near the milking parlour for 3-4 days after DCT is administered to minimise milk and antibiotic leakage

Check udders daily but do not handle, to identify any cow with a swollen quarter

Any cow with a swollen quarter must be separated off and check manually for heat and pain. Strip the suspect quarter and if suspicious treat as a clinical case. Once course is completed re-administer DCT and make a record.

Having milked cows for years, we all assume we know how to dry-off a cow.

However, because we only do this process once a year there is no harm in refreshing ourselves about how to do this well.

If you would like further information to help train staff or family members new to drying off, the resources available at Animal Health Ireland are excellent, and a great source of information.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry.

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