One could argue that the most important employees on a dairy farm are the cows. What we do for our bovine employees during the dry period plays a big role in how they perform once they re-enter the milking string. University of Kentucky’s Donna Amaral-Phillips shared five areas to focus on in a recent Kentucky Dairy Notes newsletter.

Cow comfort: Amaral-Phillips wrote that the same principles that guide cow comfort apply to dry cow housing. Farmers should strive to minimize potential stress to dry cows, which can be caused by overcrowded resting or feeding areas, repeated movement between cow groups, and heat stress.

Body condition at calving: Amaral-Phillips shared that the recommended body condition score at calving is 3. Overconditioned cows are more likely to have a higher incidence of metabolic diseases and lose more condition after calving. Furthermore, cows that maintain or gain body condition have better conception rates, less pregnancy loss, and are healthier than those that lost weight in the first month after calving. Amaral-Phillips noted the importance of getting cows pregnant in a timely manner and feeding late-lactation cows appropriately to ensure desirable body condition scores at dry-off.

Energy in the dry cow ration: She wrote that far-off dry cows fed too much energy have a harder time during the transition period. Far-off rations should be balanced for energy levels between 0.60 and 0.62 Mcal/NEL per pound of dry matter. To achieve this, Amaral-Phillips noted to limit corn silage and feed higher NDF feeds, such as straw or more mature forage.

Anionic salts in prefresh diets: Subclinical hypocalcemia, also known as milk fever, is a problem on many farms. Amaral-Philips shared that feeding the correct amount of anionic salts for 21 days prior to calving can help prepare the cow’s body to more quickly reabsorb calcium from the bone needed for the onset of milk synthesis. She noted that urine pH must be monitored to ensure the proper amount of anionic salts are fed.

Other ration components: Amaral-Phillips emphasized the importance of metabolizable protein, macro and trace minerals, and vitamins in a dry cow diet. Additives such as ruminally protected methionine, choline, monensin, and yeast supplements can benefit cows during the dry period and as they return to the milking string.

Amaral-Phillips encouraged farmers to implement these ideas to improve their dry cow programs. This critical period can be used to support a dairy’s most important employees in their next lactation.

Summary: What we do for our bovine employees during the dry period plays a big role in how they perform once they re-enter the milking string.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
April 1, 2021
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