Dry cow therapy

“We draft them off as we milk, then when we’ve finished milking the rest, we just bring them back on the platform and dry cow them.”

Wait a moment – did I hear that correctly? If so, you better stop right now and think about that!!

Dry cow therapy is a significant investment of time and money. “The way I’ve always done it” may no longer be best practice or give you the best return on that investment.

The goals at drying-off are firstly to shut down milk production and seal the teat canal as quickly as possible, and secondly, to use a treatment program that both treats existing infections and reduces the risk of new infections in both the dry period and at calving.

Here are some of the key steps to review and consider in your dry-off protocol.

Production level at the point of dry-off

  • This is one of the most common problems that we see.
  • Cows to be dried-off should be producing between 5 and 12 litres per day. This refers to each individual cow, not the average of the group, and is achievable even in high producing herds. Drying-off at production levels below 5 litres per day decreases the effectiveness of treatments, and increases the risk of residues at calving.
  • Never use “skip-a-day” milking to assist drying-off – this adversely affects the cow’s ability to produce an effective teat plug for the dry period.

Application of treatments

  • Don’t try and do too many cows in one session, and ensure you have sufficient staff present to make the job easier and quicker – when people no longer want to be there, it is likely the quality of the job will rapidly decline!
  • If teats are dirty, they should be washed and dried prior to milking, not just prior to treatment. By doing this, the dirty wash water will be gone by the time you treat the teat.
  • Cows should be treated as soon as possible after cups come off. On average, the teat canal takes 20-30 minutes after milking to close and seal, meaning that if that has already occurred and you break that seal open again to treat cows, it will not reform properly, thus leaving the teat at a much higher risk of infection.
  • Carefully sterilise each teat end prior to infusing a treatment – this step is critical! Keep rubbing the teat end with an alcohol soaked teat wipe or cotton bud until no more dirt appears on the teat wipe afterwards. If there is dirt left on the teat end at the time of infusion, there is a high risk of introducing that material into the teat.
  • After infusion, massage antibiotic dry cow therapy up into the udder.
  • If you are following with a teat sealant, re-sterilise the teat end prior to infusion – this is important.
  • Infuse the teat sealant, but do NOT massage up into the udder - you want the teat sealant to remain in the teat which is where it does its job!
  • After treatment, thoroughly cover all teats with teat spray – this is very important as the treatment process will likely delay the closure and sealing of the teat canal.
  • Ensure the treated cows are clearly marked – an unmarked dry cow re-entering the milking herd is a recipe for disaster!

After dry-off

  • Allow the cows to move quietly to a nearby, clean paddock. Have feed already available in the paddock so that cows do not immediately lie down – remember that teats are likely to take a little longer to close and seal and will remain at a higher risk until they do so.
  • Do not run the cows, walk then too far or truck them away for at least a few days after treatment. The teat sealant is likely to need a little time to settle and form into position in the teat, and you do not want to create an antibiotic and/or teat sealant “milkshake” or cause teats to drip milk after dry-off.
  • Monitor the cows for a few days after dry-off (this is usually quite easily done whilst feeding them) - any swollen quarters should be carefully assessed as to whether they are just swollen with milk, or are actually a clinical case of mastitis.

This is a summary of some key points for review and discussion that could be used as a starting point to ensure you have an effective drying-off treatment protocol on your farm.

The Countdown Farm Guidelines (specifically Guidelines 16, 17 & 18) provide a wealth of information and are a great way to guide a discussion with your veterinarian.

Drying-off is your investment in the next lactation – make the most of it!

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