Attention turns to drying off on autumn calving farms

25th July 2015

Attention turns to drying off on autumn calving farms

With calving only around the corner on autumn calving farms, attention is now turning to getting cows dried off, writes Conail Keown.

Over half the farms on the Dairylink project are split-calving and are now moving into the dry period with all or part of their herds, so their focus has switched to dry cow management.

Ensuring the correct management of cows at drying off and during the dry period is critical to ensure the best possible start in the next lactation. Any mistakes in the management or procedure can have consequences that will dramatically outweigh the cost of a good dry cow management plan. Two project farmers who place a high priority on their individual dry cow management describe their procedure:

Bill Brown, Millisle

For convenience, Bill picks one day per month from July to November for drying off cows and sets a minimum target of six weeks dry for all the cows in the herd. Cows with high somatic cell count (SCC) or cows in poor body condition will be given a longer dry period of up to eight weeks. Bill uses Noroclox antibiotic dry cow tubes and Noroseal, a teat sealer used on all cows for his drying off treatment. Immediately after a cow’s final milking, all four teat ends are disinfected with alcohol and each teat then receives a dry cow tube and teat sealer in a hygienic manner. These cows are immediately returned to a paddock with low grass cover, which is located some distance from both the remaining milking herd and the milking parlour. Cows with a SCC greater than 250 receive a longer-acting antibiotic when dried off.

From a cost perspective, Bill’s dry cow treatment costs £7.35 (€10.50) per cow for the standard treatment, and a premium of £12.65 (€18.07) for cows with a SCC higher than 250. The basic dry cow tubes and sealer cost £2.70 (€3.85) and £4.65 (€6.64) per cow respectively. As part of the overall health plan for the farm, Bill uses the dry period for additional medication and vaccination of cows. Once dry, each cow is vaccinated with Rotavec Corona to boost antibodies in colostrum at a cost of £7.40 (€10.57). Also during the dry period a mineral and vitamin bolus to counteract the farm’s deficiency in selenium is administered costing £5.50 (€7.86) per cow, and all cows are also treated with pour-on at a cost of £4.90 (€7) per cow. This treats lice and worms.

A separate dose is given for fluke. In total, the medication and vaccinations treated during the dry period cost the farm £17.80 (€25.43) per cow in addition to the £7.35 (€10.50) incurred in dry cow treatment costs.

Bill comments: "The dry period is a good time to treat cows as there is no milk withhold and cows are at a stage of low stress level. Treatment and vaccination is expensive, but what is the alternative? If my dry cow management is not correct, it will cost me in the long run with increased cases of mastitis, milk fever, retained placenta, lameness and other issues like ketosis which all reduce profitability."

Kevin McGrade, Dromore

Kevin’s calving season will run from September to December this year and because of this he started drying off cows on 15 July.

The procedure is conducted in a similar way to that of the Brown farm, with operator hygiene viewed as a key component in the process. The cows to be dried off are grouped together and after their final milking all four teat ends are disinfected and the antibiotic is administered.

In a similar fashion to Bill, Kevin uses teat sealer on all cows, and focuses on good hygiene throughout the whole process from the facilities and cows to the operator himself. For example, time spent washing down the parlour before the cows enter, and using clean gloves and aprons for the treatment are small steps which make a big difference. Furthermore, a final teat dip is then applied once the procedure is finished.

Ideally, Kevin prefers treating the cows when weather conditions are dry and it is less mucky on the farm lanes and in the paddocks. However, this is not always possible and the most recent batch of cows that were dried off had to be housed immediately due to heavy rainfall in the preceding days.

The herd on the McGrade farm has been on a grass-only diet for over two months, with no concentrate being fed in the parlour as allowed by the excellent grazing conditions on the farm recently. This is a good illustration of Kevin’s desire to maximise grass utilisation and to try and capture as much profit margin as possible when the cows are still milking before being dried off. Cow condition is on target with 95% of the herd going into the dry period at a condition score of 3.

The antibiotic tube and teat sealer cost Kevin £5.30 (€7.57) per cow. In a similar fashion to the Brown farm, he uses the dry period for routine treatments such as hoof trimming and worming. He uses a standard pour-on wormer for the cows, which are also treated for fluke and flies at the same time. Kevin buys his treatments through a buying group which affords him up to 20% discount on some of the products.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Irish Farmers Journal. Please click on the below Irish Farmers Journal logo to be brought to additional dairy articles

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