“The dry period is an essential time of rest and recuperation that can prepare cows for a productive subsequent lactation,” said Mark van der List, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. How the cow moves through the dry period influences her production, health and ability to become pregnant again.
So how can we help cows stay comfortable and healthy through the dry period? It actually starts on the day of dry-off. Below are six steps that can unlock dry-off success.
No. 1: Get ahead of mastitis infections
Some cows may enter the dry period with existing intramammary infections (IMI), and others may develop IMI during the dry period. The occurrence of IMI during the dry period poses an increased risk of clinical mastitis in the future.1 A dry cow treatment is one way to combat any persistence or new infections.
“A dry cow antibiotic tube is a great way to clear up any subclinical infections that may be present,” Dr. van der List emphasized. “It can also prevent new infections from occurring during the dry period.”
No. 2: Use a teat sealant: no ifs, ands or buts
“Regardless of the dry-off protocol you decide to use, teat sealants are extremely important,” said Dr. van der List. “Veterinarians now know that some cows do not form their own keratin plug to stop milk leakage and bacteria entering the udder.”
For cows that can form their own plug, it can still take a few days for it to form after dry-off, leaving animals susceptible to infection.
“Teat sealants provide an antibiotic-free physical barrier between the udder and its environment,” said Dr. van der List. “Teat sealants are especially important for higher-producing cows, since their teats are less likely to form a keratin plug.”
There are two different teat sealants:
- External sealants can last anywhere from five to seven days, require a visual inspection, and have to be applied twice — at dry-off and before freshening.
- Internal teat sealants last the entire dry period, mimicking a natural keratin plug. Correct application and removal are crucial in successfully utilizing internal teat sealants. “Using a colored teat sealant adds to application convenience, and makes it easy to distinguish from the milk and garget during removal at calving time,” explained Dr. van der List. “It’s much easier for employees to recognize, and as a result, they have more consistent success with sealant clean-out.” It is also very important to ensure meticulous teat end hygiene when applying internal sealants and intramammary antibiotic tubes.
No. 3: Utilize vaccinations
Cows vaccinated during the dry period are more likely to enter the next lactation with a robust immune system to fight off infectious disease threats:
- Vaccines keep the dam healthy and enhance antibody levels in colostrum to protect the calf from disease.2
- Look for a coliform mastitis vaccine that’s effective against Escherichia coli and the effects of endotoxemia caused by E. coli and Salmonella Typhimurium.
No. 4: Ensure high-producing cows are ready to be dried off
“Thanks to improved genetics, nutrition and reproduction, we are now drying off cows that are giving tremendous amounts of milk,” said Dr. van der List. “We need to have good protocols in place to minimize stress and reduce milk production quickly, in order to decrease udder pressure, milk leakage and the risk of new mastitis infections.”
There are a few different ways to dry cows off with the common goal of decreasing milk production, minimizing milk leakage and reducing cow discomfort and stress. A new approach is to supplement cows with an oral mineral bolus designed to reduce milk production. Administering two boluses around dry-off slightly decreases dry-matter intake and milk synthesis which leads to a more rapid decrease in udder pressure and less leaking.
No. 5: Don’t forget the environment
Once animals are dried off, it’s important to provide optimal comfort during the dry period. Dr. van der List suggests keeping the following in mind:
- Heat abatement. Helping dry cows stay cool is just as important as keeping lactating cows cool. Dairy cows can experience heat stress beginning at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide dry cows with proper shade, fans and sprinklers.
- Ventilation. A well-ventilated building prevents high humidity in the winter and heat buildup in the summer. Signs of poor ventilation include air that smells like ammonia and animals that are coughing, experiencing nasal discharge or open-mouthed breathing. A cow’s hair coat should be free of moisture when you run your fingers through it.
- Stocking density. Dry cows require significantly more space than lactating animals. To ensure dry cows have enough space to eat and rest, keep stocking density at or below 85%.
- Nutrition. Adopting a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diet can help reduce the risk of subclinical hypocalcemia. Studies have shown a DCAD diet results in increased dry-matter intake in early lactation, increased milk production, fewer fresh cow health events and improved reproductive performance.3
- Cleanliness. Remove contaminated bedding frequently and provide plenty of fresh bedding under animals. Manage water tanks, feeding areas and walkways to eliminate standing water or manure.
No. 6: Consult your veterinarian
“A good dry period and a good transition into the next lactation will improve the lifetime performance of your cattle,” concluded Dr. van der List. “The right dry-off protocol can vary between farms, so it’s important to speak with your veterinarian. They can guide you through protocol changes and help make any necessary adjustments.”
©2022 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., Duluth, GA. All Rights Reserved. US-BOV-0422-2022-A
1 Nitz J, Wente, N Zhang, Y, et al. Dry period or early lactation-time of onset and associated risk factors for intramammary infections in dairy cows. Pathogens 2021;10(2), 224.
2 Zhylkaidar A, Oryntaev K, Altenov A, et al. Prevention of Bovine Mastitis through Vaccination. Arch Raz Inst 2021;76(5), 1381–1387.
3 Couto Serrenho R, Bruinjé TC, Morrison EI, et al. Controlled trial of the effect of negative dietary cation-anion difference pre-partum diets on milk production, reproductive performance and culling of dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2021;104(6):6919–6928.