Great article on dry cows by our trainer Bertjan Westerlaan in NWF News. What do you do to prepare your cows for the dry period?
"Farmers who take their eye off the ball when it comes to the dry period are storing up production and financial problems for the rest of the year. That is the message from Dutch vet and Vetvice adviser Bertjan Westerlaan, who says 80% of vet care and farmer time input is spent on cows as a result of mismanaging the critical dry period."
“Look at the cost per cow or on a herd basis of problems like milk fever, retained placenta and displaced abomasum and it soon becomes clear why getting dry and transition cow management right is so critical. With heifers, this is even more so: they are very vulnerable to acidosis and hoof lesions associated with lameness such as white line disease.”
“Heifers suffering from acidosis or lameness in this way are likely to have lifelong problems; they never really recover. Her potential lifetime yield can be compromised by poor management at drying off after her first lactation,” says Bertjan.
The aim must always be providing good comfort and nutrition so that the cow can be healthy and stress-free.
“Observation is essential; cows don’t lie! What you see will tell you how she is, so my advice is look, think and act on those observations.”
“Figures show that 25-30% of cattle are culled in the first month post-calving. Good dry and transition cow management can reduce this figure, as well as increasing longevity and lifetime production; the best farmers in Holland are achieving 50-60,000 litres’ lifetime yield.”
Well begun is half done
Preparing for drying off is the start of a successful transition period. The goal of the dry period is the renewal of milk producing tissue, as well as the chance for the rumen to regenerate and recover from any problems like acidosis.
“The aims of a successful dry period are: no milk fever or fatty liver problems; minimal negative energy balance; healthy feet and; no (endo)metritis. The dry period is not a time to just forget your cows – quite the opposite,” warns Bertjan.
Set five goals at drying off
1. Body condition score of 3
2. Teat condition score of 1-2
3. Milk production down to 10-12 litres per day
4. Healthy feet
5. A checklist or protocol to ensure each cow is checked for points 1-4
Body condition score (BCS)
Getting BCS right at the start of the dry period means close observation of cows in late lactation, says Bertjan.
“Cows with a BCS of 2.5 or less need pushing on to gain condition. Check these cows for twin pregnancies and adjust feeding accordingly – they may also need bringing into the dry
cow group earlier as they often calve 10 days sooner.”
“With fat cows, it is important not to suddenly stop feeding them, as this increases the risk of them going into negative energy balance. Using Cow Signals and monitoring BCS through the production cycle should help farmers avoid excessively fat or thin cows.”
Cows with serious teat end calluses or keratosis have 2.5 times higher risk of mastitis during their next lactation. Assessing and scoring teats should highlight a herd problem; an incidence in excess of 10% of cows with teat lesions is indicative of poor parlour function.
Milk production at drying off
“Ideally, I would like to see cows going into the drying off period producing less than 10 litres per day. This reduces the stress on the cow and also reduces her risk of mastitis at teat end closure is improved.”
“In practice this can be difficult to achieve and certainly creates more work, as cows in the immediate period before drying off should ideally be put into a separate group on low energy rations and even reduced to once daily milking. Managing cows at this time does mean being aware of the metabolic stress they are under and being vigilant for problems such as hypocalcaemia.”
“Cows leaking milk are susceptible to infection via the teat canal, so bedding must be kept clean and fresh. It is also critical that they have unlimited access to water and roughage during this period,” advises Bertjan.
Drying off offers the perfect opportunity to assess and if necessary trim cows’ feet to ensure optimal foot shape. Routine foot bathing at drying off allows control of infections and, for those cows needing remedial work, there is a six-week recovery period before they rejoin the milking herd.
Dry cow checklist
A successful dry cow protocol should only take one person a matter of minutes to complete if everything is set up in advance. This includes having the foot trimmer available, preparing crushes, gates and treatment areas, filling the footbath and having medicines to hand.
The checklist should include:
• PD the cow
• Dry cow tube application
• Score for BCS and teat end condition
• Assess foot condition and trim/footbath as required
• Bolus if required
• Trim tail and clip if required
• Apply ear tags for fly control if required
Cows should be checked at least twice daily, with udders assessed for swelling and mastitis. It may be necessary to dip daily if mastitis is an issue.
“Getting into the habit of regular monitoring of the cows, including keeping a diary, allows farmers to identify changes in BCS as well as behaviour changes. Variations in BCS within the dry cow group may be due to ration sorting, or high ranking cows pushing others away from the feed barrier,” says Bertjan.
“All cows must be able to eat at the same time; if you’re observing your cows and there are animals walking about searching for a space; that is a problem. This leads to increased hoof lesions as well as added stress.”
“Where barn design is such that cows cannot eat at the same time, make sure a mixed ration is fed to minimise sorting. Ideally, it should be fed out twice daily and regularly pushed up so that fresh feed is always available.”
As well as feed, adequate bedding provision is critical to dry cow health. Large, soft beds are best suited to a stress-free calving; ideally, having pens close to or adjacent to the close-up group pen allow cows to be moved into individual pens at calving to minimise stress.
“I would also advise having a separate close-up group for heifers on large farms. This reduces bullying and stress, resulting in an 11% increase in time spent eating and a 12% increase in silage intake," says Bertjan.
Source: Newsletter NWF Agriculture
Dry to fresh
Our training course starts with the drying-off day and ends 4 weeks after calving. We explain dry period management from a variety of angles. We approach it from the perspective of a manager of a large farm and we identify with the person who has to do the work. Most importantly, we put ourselves in the position of the cow: what does she need for a good start to lactation?