Dry cow season is an important foundation for profitable lactation

Gerry O'Dowd

Despite the dry cow period being the foundation of a profitable lactation, it is often during this period that cows are neglected. I encounter management issues during the dry period over things like feed space, water space and cow-to-­cubicle ratios.

These problems are not confined to the main dry-cow shed, and indeed are often more acute in the close-up calving groups and the calving pens themselves.

Adequate access to quality feed is crucial around calving since a cow's appetite is naturally suppressed at this time. If optimum feed intake is not achieved, this will result in a higher incidence of displaced abomasums and metabolic diseases that will impact on the cow's production. For example, I had a client with 140 cows who had to deal with seven cases of left displaced abomasums two years ago. After carrying out a farm audit, I recommended increasing the regularity of feeding for the close-up cows and in the calving boxes. This simple change has eliminated the problem ever since. Farms that group and feed dry cows according to BCS consistently outperform farms that don't.

Environmental hygiene during the dry period is crucial for many reasons, but particularly for environmental mastitis control. Strep uberis is currently the most common isolate from clinical mastitis cases in our practice. Nearly two thirds of all new infections with Strep uberis occur during the dry period, so it is self evident that good environmental hygiene throughout the dry period up to the point of calving is critical. If most clinical mastitis cases on your farm occur within 30 days of calving, the dry period should be thoroughly investigated in conjunction with your vet. Teat sealing at drying off will reduce the incidence of new infections with Strep uberis in cows, but serious issues remain with control in heifers. Teat sealer is widely used on heifers in New Zealand 4-6 week's before calving with impressive results, but this is still not widely practiced in Ireland.

The dry period is also the ideal time to carry out parasite control in the dairy herd. Treatments required vary from farm to farm and from year to year, so the best thing is to discuss it with your vet. The farm's parasite status and the treatments required specifically for that farm can be established by collating all the information from bulk milk disease results, faecal examination results and post-mortems.

BeefCheck is a real step forward in relation to post-mortem information being communicated back from the vets in the factory to the farmer.

In the post quota era, we need to change our mindset to ensure that our feeding infrastructure and overall management is targeted at maximising our cow's potential, rather than simply avoiding problems. The animal medicine industry has recognised the importance of this and developed apps for smartphones to assist vets to carry out on farm audits to identify bottlenecks on an individual farm.

Over the last number of years the veterinary profession has also been implementing preventative strategies for infectious disease control on farms with increasing success. Standards are rising all the time on Irish farms, and there is a greater thirst for knowledge and a greater willingness to innovate.

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This focus on optimising overall farm production and profitability is an expanding role for vets.

Based in Ardee, Co Louth, Gerry O'Dowd runs a five-vet practice covering Louth and north-east Meath

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