Dry cows can be overlooked on a dairy farm. Yet good dry cow care leads to better performance after they calve. Potentially, for every dry cow, there are four cows that are milking more due to proper dry cow management. Making improvements for dry cows is going to pay for itself in time.
The care for dry cows to prepare them for a successful entrance into the milking herd is detailed below.
A treatment with intramammary antibiotics helps resolve lingering mastitis and prevents new infections from occurring over the dry period.
To administer the treatment, first milk out the udder. Then clean and sterilize the teat end.
Dry cow tubes come with a nice set of alcohol wipes. Use those. Otherwise you’ll take bacteria straight up into the teat.
Use one tube per quarter. After infusing, massage the quarter to work the medicine into the mammary gland. Finish with a regular post-dip.
Other considerations to keep in mind when selecting the treatment are the length of the dry period and the milk and meat with hold for the treatment. Make sure the hold is over before the cows enter the milking herd.
There are several dry cow antibiotic treatments on the market today. Most treat Staph aureus, while some will also treat different types of Strep and Penicillin-resistant strains. Consult your veterinarian to for guidance.
Some farms use teat sealants to seal teats at dry-off, while others won’t.
After the antibiotic treatment is infused, re-sterilize the teat end. Then infuse the sealant, but do not massage, as the product should not be pushed further into the udder. Again, finish with the post-dip.
The dry period is a good time to administer vaccines. Respiratory vaccines should be used only for the right reason. This vaccine will only aid the cow as she enters the fresh pen; it will not increase colostral antibodies to benefit her calf.
Vaccines can also be given to help fight mastitis and salmonella, if there is a history on the farm.
There are some calf health vaccines that can be administered to the dry cow to be passed along to her calf. This is only relevant if the farm plans to feed that colostrum to the calves; otherwise, there is no point.
The best timing is to give the vaccine seven to eight weeks before calving. If the cow has never been vaccinated before, it should receive two doses, with the first one given one month prior (12 weeks before calving).
The ideal dry cow housing would provide 30 inches of bunk space per cow, water access, a non-slip walking surface and adequate space for the cow to lie down.
It is suggested that far-off dry cows have 75 to 100 square feet per cow in a bedded pack, with close-up dry cows getting 100 to 300 square feet per cow.
The optimum bedding in a bedded pack is a sand base with straw and shavings on top. This provides good footing and comfort. A concrete base with straw and shavings is easier to clean, but it could be harder on a cow if she goes down. In either case, the bedding should always be clean and dry.
For freestalls, sand is clean and provides excellent cow comfort.
Dry cows should not be overcrowded.
Dry cows poorly regulate their energy intake. They can consume 40 to 80 percent more energy than required while dry, which puts them at risk for metabolic and health issues.
During dry period cows can be fed only good quality green fodder with 1-2 kg concentrate. The ration should have moderate energy density with low levels of protein (12 to 14 percent) and starch (12 to 16 percent).
The ration should be fed at 55 percent moisture. Water can be added, and it should be processed adequately to prevent sorting. The feed should be palatable with no mould.
Depending on the farm, anionic salt can be fed three weeks before calving. This sends a cow into a slightly acidotic state, causing her to ramp up calcium release to keep her levels normal.
Forage options for dry cows include corn silage, alfalfa hay, wheat straw, grass hay, sorghum silage and corn stalks.
Straw is commonly used forage for dry cows because it is palatable and has a good fibre length. It is very low in energy and can be combined with a higher energy feed.
Grass hay has a high fill factor and is moderate in protein and calcium, but its downside is that it is extremely high in potassium and should be limited to less than 30 percent of forage dry matter for this reason.
Sorghum silage is gaining in popularity. It is high in moisture, but should be limited to less than 50 percent of forage dry matter due to its energy and potassium levels.