The end is nigh for the days of blanket dry cow therapy

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Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

When the World Health Organisation states that "antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency", and the UK's chief medical officer says the threat posed by resistance to antibiotics "ranks alongside terrorism", then perhaps it is time to realise that the days of blanket dry cow therapy may soon be coming to an end.

The surefire way to prevent a mastitis issue developing in your herd is to use blanket dry cow antibiotics across the entire herd.

However, the general consensus is, that with antimicrobial resistance increasing in humans, and with the finger being pointed (rightly or wrongly) at agriculture, then perhaps our days of deploying this option may be soon coming to an end.

Already blanket dry cow therapy is illegal in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands.

And with Irish milk processors competing with these countries on a global market, you would have to conclude that Selective Dry Cow Therapy (SDCT) is going to become the norm in Ireland sooner rather than later.

With this in mind, we have two options: we can bury our heads in the sand or we can be proactive and do our own on-farm trials to enable us to be prepared if and when SDCT becomes mandatory.

Apart from the health aspect, there are also other benefits to SDCT, such as reduced cost of dry cow tubes and no withdrawal periods to adhere to at after calving.

It also allows cows to fight mastitis by using their own natural immune system, thereby increasing their natural ability to fight off future outbreaks of mastitis.

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So is SDCT an option for all farmers?

Milk recording

No, it is not. It can only be considered by farmers who have excellent records of the SCC levels within their herd and in general this is confined to herds that are milk recording.

However, for farmers who are not milk recording, most companies offering this service will carry out one milk recording before the winter if you sign up now for the 2018 season.

The general recommendation is that the last milk recording should be conducted approximately two weeks prior to the intended dry off date. As important, is the second milk recording, to measure how successful (or unsuccessful) the exercise was.

Ideally this should be completed before St Patrick's Day, regardless of what proportion of the herd are calved by then.

Is SDCT suitable for all cows within the herd? No, it is not. Only cows with an SCC of less than 50,000 in the milk recording prior to dry off should be considered.

Coupled with this, SCC levels for that cow should have never exceeded 200,000 in that lactation.

The reality is that for most herds, only 10-20pc of the herd may be suitable for this exercise, which makes it a manageable experiment for most.

How is it carried out in practice?

Identify the cows suitable for SDCT and group them separately to the main herd.

Milk them as a separate mob and teat seal them immediately after milking.

I asked Don Crowley, Teagasc expert on SCC, what was the most important point for farmers to remember when carrying out SDCT?

His answer was "hygiene, hygiene, hygiene".

If you are not meticulous regarding hygiene when it comes to inserting the teat sealer, then don't even attempt SDCT as you could create a huge SCC issue for yourself rather than preventing it.

After inserting the sealer, these cows need to be identified.

Ideally a strap around the leg and preferably they should be wintered as a separate group.

Selective Dry Cow Therapy is coming down the tracks, why not be proactive and be ready for it when it does arrive?

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick

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