Early dry off and dry cow treatment choices

As we head into autumn, it's time to look at drying off certain cows early to maximise feed resources, improve body condition scores (BCS) and reduce bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) against the late lactation rise.

  • Well-conditioned, low yielding cows use up important feed resources which would allow high yielding cows to produce more milk for longer.
    • It is easier for milking cows to gain weight whilst they are on a milking cow diet; prioritising productive cows which need to gain condition is important.
  • First and second calvers benefit from a longer dry period as they are still growing to their mature weight, their intakes are often lower and they struggle with competition from older cows for resources.
    • An earlier dry off maximises the chances of them reaching target BCS for optimal production and fertility in the next lactation.
  • High somatic cell count (SCC) cows push the overall BMSCC up at a time when cell counts are naturally rising due to the concentrating effects of later lactation.
    • Drying off these cows earlier, using dry cow treatment, creates a buffer for fluctuations in cell counts without reaching grading levels and allows cows with existing infections the best chance to cure before next lactation.

The importance of the dry period for udder health

The dry period is vital for regeneration of the udder and recovering from infection. Dry cow antibiotics are the mainstay of treating existing infections and cure rates are vastly superior compared with treatment during lactation.

  • This is especially true of Staphylococcus aureus infections which typically only cure during lactation 40% of the time, whereas an appropriate dry cow treatment can be as successful as 80% at clearing infection.

The dry period is also an important source of new infections for at least the first 30 days after calving and, research suggests, even longer. On some farms, as many as 75% of mastitis cases come from contamination of udders during the dry period.

  • As many as one in five cows fail to form a protective keratin plug after drying off and of these cows, as many as nine out of 10 will get mastitis as a result.

The cost implications of this are massive, both in terms of economic cost and stress of dealing with mastitis during the busiest time of the year.

Dry cow treatment choices

Antibiotic dry cow treatment, as mentioned before, is the best way of treating cows with infections and should be used in any cows with a cell count over 150,000 cells/ml (120,000 cells/ml in heifers) in any herd test, any which have had a clinical mastitis episode in the current season and any cow being dried off producing over 12 litres. This treatment will only provide a maximum of 10 weeks protection against dry period infections (depending on which product is used), leaving cows with longer dry periods susceptible to infection.

To protect against these dry period infections, Teatseal can be used on its own if a cow is considered uninfected, i.e. it does not fit the criteria for needing antibiotic treatment, or in combination with antibiotic dry cow treatment. It can be used as far off as 20 weeks before calving in mixed aged cows (although this is off label), making it an excellent insurance policy for cows dried off at this time of year.

Don't forget the heifers!

Heifers are also at significant risk of picking up infections in the lead up to calving, as a surprising proportion have open teats just before calving when they are most susceptible to infection.  Heifer mastitis is associated with 7% less milk production for their first lactation.

The use of Teatseal® in heifers massively reduces the incidence of mastitis and is a great investment in protecting their productivity and survival in the herd. Teatseal should be administered four to six weeks prior to calving, but can be used up to 12 weeks in advance (although this is also off label).

To increase the practicality of teatsealing heifers and cows, we have the use of our teatsealing trailer which facilitates the positioning of cows and heifers for sterile administration of product with minimal risk to animals and personnel. The trailer can be transported to run offs well before bringing them back to the farm.

Please get in touch if you would like to know more about our teatsealing services or for general drying off and body condition scoring advice.