March 26 2024 02:43 PM

Whether they’re winning lifetime production awards or holding the title of “She’s Our Best,” high-achieving cows might be under a lot of pressure at dry off — literally

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High-performing dairy cows are the golden girls of the herd. They’ve proven their value through high milk quality, reproductive efficiency and impact on total farm production. Whether they’re winning lifetime production awards or holding the title of “She’s Our Best,” these high-achieving cows might be under a lot of pressure at dry off — literally.

“Studies have shown that cows making more than 33 pounds of milk at dry off are at increased risk of leaking,”¹ shared Curt Vlietstra, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “There are a lot of cows that fall into this category, and our higher-performing animals are especially at risk.”

Dry off is an important time for all animals, but giving our golden girls extra help to stay healthy through dry off can be the difference in how they perform in the next lactation.

Oral mineral supplementation proven to improve cow comfort, udder health

When a cow makes the transition from a milking cow to a dry cow, she doesn’t have the ability to shut off her milk production overnight. “When we think about it, cows have been running a metabolic marathon for the past year,” expressed Dr. Vlietstra. Just like a professional runner recovering after a long race, it takes time for cows and their udders to rejuvenate after a milking season. Unfortunately, unlike a professional runner and their trainer, we don’t have the ability to communicate routine changes and the dry off period with cows.

Historically, alterations to routine such as diet manipulation and decreased number of milkings prior to dry off were used to reduce milk production and impending discomfort.² These steps to help dry cows off more gradually, however, often required facilities, labor, or equipment that made these tasks very difficult. A relatively new option in the dairy industry, an oral acidogenic bolus, Bovikalc® Dry, has been added to the toolbox of drying cows off more comfortably. Given at dry off, the bolus supplement decreases milk production and udder engorgement,³ offering cows a more comfortable experience and other health benefits without the need for additional pens or rations.

Cow health benefits shown through new research study

In a recent study, the bolus supplement proved to maintain cow comfort after dry off, all while maintaining normal rumination. Comfort levels were measured by total daily activity of cows. The research showed cows that received the supplement spent 33 more minutes lying down the day after dry off. And on average, cows spent up to 17 more minutes per day lying down during the first two weeks after dry off.⁴

”An extra 17 minutes a day doesn’t seem like a lot, but I like to make an analogy to a 20-minute nap at the end of a busy week,” said Dr. Vlietstra. “Sitting down in the recliner or taking a quick nap — think of how much that can boost your whole day.”

In the same study, cows given BOVIKALC Dry supplements experienced reduced somatic cell counts and lower risk of clinical mastitis. Subsequently, those same cows had a lower likelihood of herd removal after both 90 and 300 days in milk.⁵

“Trying to get a cow to drop her milk production in a way that doesn’t compromise her comfort or her health is not easy,” stressed Dr. Vlietstra. “It’s something that we’ve struggled with, so it’s nice to finally have a solution to at least help address that issue.”

Top animals are worth the extra investment

Dry off is a stressful time, but a rough transition after lactation can have a cascading effect, impacting a cow’s ability to rest, recover and prepare for calving and the next lactation. Higher-producing cows are likely going to have a harder time achieving comfort, and will be at more risk of milk leakage and, subsequently, mastitis.¹

“Supplements at dry off are an investment, and a way to pay those animals back for being high-producing, high-quality animals,” stated Dr. Vlietstra. “Think of the younger animals, which should be the genetically superior animals, that are going through the stress of being dried off for the first time. This extra step ensures we are doing what we can, so they continue to stay in that high-performing category.”

Even though a smooth dry off is a critical point for any cow, Dr. Vlietstra reminds us there are a multitude of things that help a cow become or stay high-performing. “Most of the time, if a cow is leaving lactation with high production, it means a lot of things went right for her,” he pointed out. “She could just be a good cow, but part of that is good farm management, a good transition to start the lactation, and no significant health hiccups along the way.” Maintaining strong disease prevention and treatment protocols and good environmental management will always be important to herd health.

“We are continuing to learn, but the early science and most recent research shows that Bovikalc® Dry is proving to be worth the investment,"⁴⁻⁵ concluded Dr. Vlietstra. “It won’t turn your poor performers into good performers, but it will increase the likelihood of maintaining your good performers and potentially moving them to be top performers.”

To learn more about oral supplementation at dry off, work with your veterinarian to set up a protocol that works best for your herd and operation.