Planning for and implementing a successful drying off procedure

Proper planning ahead of drying off dairy cows for the winter is an essential part in keeping on top of somatic cell count (SCC), according to Michelle McGrath, assistant Cellcheck programme manager with Animal Health Ireland (AHI).

“Review expected calving dates to plan your dry-off dates, taking into consideration the shorter gestation length of some sires,” the assistant programme manager advises in the October edition of the Cellcheck newsletter.

Before drying off

Cows need a dry period of eight weeks to allow for udder repair and to rejuvenate, which is especially important for thin or young cows.

From an SCC perspective, McGrath advises the following:
  • Collect sterile milk samples from a good selection of cows to get a profile of the type of bacteria in your herd;
  • Review your bulk tank SCC and individual cow SCC from recent milk recordings. Cows with persistently elevated SCC are a risk to others and often have poor cure rates, so should be dried off early. In some cases, they may need to be culled.

The assistant programme manager notes that it is important to put time aside to discuss records, the drying off procedure and appropriate dry cow antibiotic selection with your vet and to determine if your herd is ready for a selective drying off strategy.

“Bear in mind that this is not without risk and professional support should be sought before attempting it,” McGrath warns.

In January 2022, new veterinary medicine regulations will come into effect, meaning farmers will have to move away from ‘blanket dry cow’ therapy towards more selective strategies.

“To ensure a successful transition, use the 2020 dry off event as an opportunity to prepare and build confidence and experience,” McGrath concludes.

Drying off

The AHI also provided best-practice advice for drying off in its latest newsletter.

Farmers are recommended to dry off abruptly and avoid skipping milkings leading up to dry off. Where cows are yielding greater than 12L/day in the week before dry off, reduce feed availability, but not water access, to reduce milk production by the dry-off date.

For the process itself, it’s best to:
  • Have the necessary equipment ready, including a clean apron, disposable gloves, teat wipes / cotton wool, methylated spirits, marker, head torch and intramammary tubes;
  • It is important not to dry off cows when you are tired, hungry, or stressed. Only dry off 20 cows at a time and have additional help available to assist. Have a system in place for cleaning, sterilising teats and tubing, and repeat for each cow;
  • Ensure teats are disinfected post-tubing and clean the parlour between batches to maintain a clean environment;
  • To avoid any errors good identification of cows and accurate record-keeping are essential;
  • Following dry-off, keep the cows standing for a minimum of 30 minutes in a clean yard before putting in a dry field or clean cubicles.

Turning to the dry period, AHI advises to clean and lime cubicles twice daily for the entire duration of the dry period.

Dry period

Farmers are recommended to “use this as an opportunity to monitor the cows, as they are susceptible to infection particularly for two weeks after drying off and two weeks before calving”.

Correct dry cow nutrition and sufficient cubicle numbers, ideally 110 for every 100 cows, are other essentials during the dry period, the organisation notes.