By Cathal Cassidy, Alltech 

AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

For any sportsperson, pre-season training is one of the most important parts of preparing for an upcoming competition, as it will set them up to perform at their maximum potential. Getting a cow’s dry period right is no different.

The dry cow period is your dairy herds “pre-season training”, as it is the starting point of the upcoming lactation. Failure to get the dry period right will result in issues at calving and poor performance in the subsequent lactation.

As discussed in previous articles published in this series, the four crucial areas of the InTouch dry cow program are body condition score (BCS), nutrition, minerals and management.

These are designed and proven to promote easy calvings and reduce metabolic issues. They also increase the dry matter intake (DMI) of cows after calving, driving milk production, while also keeping the natural loss of body condition post-calving to a minimum, improving fertility.

Now that we are crossing the halfway point in many herds’ dry period and calving is looming, we look at what we can do in order to make calving a success, remembering that it is better late than never to implement any part of these principles.

Body condition score

BCS helps to assess if the condition is changing or if some cows are over-conditioned. Aim to calve cows in a BCS of 3.25 (fit, not fat).

Over-conditioned cows are at greater risk of metabolic diseases and assisted calvings. They will also eat 30% less feed in early lactation, which will have adverse effects on milk yield and fertility.

Trying to take condition off fat cows now will result in stress to the cows and further risk of metabolic issues. The target is to make sure that no more condition is gained moving forward.

It is essential to measure their intake and, based on the quality of the feeds and forages, to assess if you are over or under-feeding them. You might need the help of a nutritionist for accurate calculation.


Nutrition is key to controlling BCS changes. If we need to reduce the energy intake of the cows, we need to restrict the cow’s daily energy intake, disallowing them to build body condition.

As detailed in part 4 of this series, straw can be used to do this effectively, and the best results are generally seen by using a controlled-energy, high-fibre diet.

If it is not possible to include straw in the diet and feed space is plentiful, restricted feeding can still be practised, but again, it needs to be controlled, so as not to create stress in the cows. Monitor cows’ intakes, as this will determine energy intake.

From this point on, it is worth including a protein source in the dry cow diet. For example, 0.5–1kg of soya bean meal/cow in the last four weeks before calving will boost colostrum quality and quantity, leading to healthier calves.

It will also increase milk production in the subsequent lactation. However, care needs to be taken to avoid it compounding an excess energy intake. It is also good practice to retest silage being fed, as silage quality may vary as we move through pits.


If not done already, it is essential to carry out a silage mineral analysis. Any later issue where a mineral imbalance is suspected cannot be diagnosed without such information.

As detailed in part 2, high potassium (K) or calcium (Ca) in silage can cause issues. We would like to see silages high in magnesium (Mg) and chloride (Cl) which will result in a dietary cation-anion balance (DCAB) figure less than 200mEq/kg. The lower this figure is, the better.

If your DCAB figure is above this, it would be important to speak to your mineral supplier so as to make sure your minerals are suitable, and, beyond this, if there are other Mg-based additives that can be used over the last few weeks pre-calving to counteract metabolic issues.

The trace-mineral content – copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn) and selenium (Se) – also plays an important role, as they will boost an animal’s immune system and help to prevent metabolic issues.

It is important to note that the quality of these trace minerals is just as important as quantity. Using a dry cow mineral that contains organic forms of these trace minerals will be better at counteracting antagonists, such as molybdenum (Mo), iron (Fe), aluminium (AI) and lead (Pb), along with having a greater uptake by animals.


In terms of management in late pregnancy, we want to create an environment that will reduce stress on cows and help them transition into lactation with ease.

As detailed in part 5, some points I would always implement with customers I work with are:
  • Not moving cows between different groups within 14 days of calving;
  • Only moving to the calving area as close to calving as possible;
  • Providing adequate lying and feed space for each cow;
  • Checking that water is always kept clean and available;
  • Making sure that fresh, palatable feed is always available, and if cows are only coming into the calving area within 1–2 days of calving, introduce the dairy mineral;
  • Have a fresh cow group to give the best possible chance of getting good feed intakes, reducing stress and making sure cows – especially heifers – have a good intake before they are introduced to the main milking group; and
  • Introducing 100 grams of feed lime to this fresh cow group’s feed to give an extra boost of Ca post-calving. 

Further Information

AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

Part 1: The importance of a successful dry cow programme

Part 2: Mineral nutrition: Getting it right this dry cow period

Part 3: The importance of an ideal body condition score for dry cows

Part 4: The key principles of dry cow nutrition

Part 5: Management tips for the dry cow period

Part 6: Are mycotoxins dangerous for dairy cows?

For more information on the Alltech dry cow action plan, call Alltech on: 059-910-1320 to get in touch with an Alltech representative; or click here