Prepare in advance for drying off

Eamon Guineavan MRCVS is a large animal vet with McLaughlins Farmcare and Veterinary Clinic in Bandon, Co. Cork, and here he advises on best practice for drying off cows.

For a typical spring-calving herd, we are in the final months of lactation 2020. The last weeks of any lactation is an important time for mastitis control.

“Somatic cell count (SCC) can creep up during this time; a small rise in an individual cow’s SCC may be normal at this stage; however, large increases in SCC in individual cows may indicate a significant subclinical infection. Now is the time to put the final plan in place for this year’s dry period,” according to Eamon.

Eamon Guinevan McLaughlins Veterinary Clinic

What is the ideal dry period length?

A dry period of 60 days has been shown to increase milk yield in subsequent lactations when compared with a 32-day dry period. This length of time is needed for the renewal of the milk producing cells in the udder.

The goals of dry period treatment are:

  1. Cure existing infections;
  2. Prevent new infections at the time of drying off and throughout the dry period.

Blanket treatment or selective dry cow treatment

Blanket treatment involves treating all cows in the herd with antibiotic DCT with or without teat sealer.

Selective DCT refers to treating a selection of cows with antibiotic DCT and all other cows in the herd receive teat sealer only. Selective DCT allows for more prudent use of antibiotics; however, it is not without risk – therefore, veterinary consultation should be sought before moving to selective DCT.

Selective DCT may be considered for herds with the following:

  • Good evidence of a low prevalence of infection e.g. bulk milk SCC consistently <200,000 cells/ml, clinical mastitis rate <2% during the three months prior to drying off, etc;
  • Regular milk recording, with a recording in the last month prior to drying off;
  • Records of all clinical mastitis cases, including culture and sensitivity results;
  • High standard of hygiene at drying off, throughout the dry period and at calving.

Within these herds; cows with an SCC consistently <100,000 cells/ml throughout the lactation and with no history of clinical mastitis may be considered suitable candidates for receiving teat sealer only. All other cows should receive antibiotic DCT and teat sealer.

From January 2022, selective DCT will be compulsory in Ireland.

Choice of dry cow treatment

There are two main types of dry cow treatment: antibiotic dry cow tubes; and teat sealers.

The antibiotic in dry cow tubes is designed to remain in the udder for a prolonged period of time (differs with various products) at a concentration that is capable of killing specific mastitis causing bacteria.

Antibiotic DCT and teat sealers also protect against the formation of new infections in the dry period. New Zealand research has shown that quarters receiving dry cow treatment had a higher rate of teat canal closure than untreated quarters.

Your choice of antibiotic DCT should be based on:

  • Culture and sensitivity results from previous clinical mastitis cases;
  • Culture and sensitivity results from high SCC cows identified on the problem cow report;
  • Activity against certain bacteria e.g. Staph. aureus, Strep. uberis & E. coli;
  • Period of protection for new infections;
  • Length of the dry period.

It is not recommended to rotate your antibiotic DCT unless you have a reason e.g. identified antibiotic resistance within the herd.

A word on antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a bug to develop resistance to the effects of a drug which it was previously susceptible too. Antibiotic resistance is a subset of this; when a type of bacteria develops resistance to a particular antibiotic.

The use of antibiotics in both humans and animals increases the risk of AMR developing and therefore responsible use is encouraged. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies antibiotics based on their importance in human medicine into a number of categories.

One such category is “Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics for Human Health (HP-CIA)”. In 2018, 8% of antibiotic dry cow tubes used contained a HP-CIA. This class of antibiotic should not be used as a first line treatment; i.e. if there is an effective alternative available.

Consider early drying off for certain cows

The drying off time can be planned based on expected calving dates. For seasonal calving herds this often means drying off cows in batches.

“It may be worth considering drying off high SCC cows earlier to: a) lower bulk tank SCC; and b) reduce the risk of spread of infection. Other possible candidates for early drying off may be thin cows or those with a concurrent issue e.g. lameness,” said Eamon.

Consider culling persistently infected cows

Cure rates from antibiotic DCT are best for younger cows and worst for older cows with chronic infections. Some types of bacteria e.g. Staph. aureus are difficult to successfully treat regardless of age.

Chronically infected cows are a source of infection for the rest of the herd and a small number of high SCC cows may be responsible for a significant increase in bulk tank SCC. Culling persistently infected cows is a key part of mastitis control.

Consider culling cows:

  • With high SCC in two consecutive lactations despite treatment with antibiotic DCT in the dry period in between;
  • Which have had three clinical cases of mastitis during the lactation. If only one quarter was involved it may be an option to dry off that quarter and milk on.

Do not use antibiotic DCT on cows that will be culled immediately and ensure adherence to withdrawal periods for subsequent culling of treated cows.

Preparation of dry cow housing

Providing a clean dry environment around the time of drying off and during the dry period plays a vital role in mastitis control.

Now may be a good time to address housing issues from last year and provide general maintenance to leaking water troughs, etc..

Studies have shown that 35% of all new intramammary infections occur during the dry period; particularly during the critical high-risk periods of two to three weeks after drying off and two weeks before calving.

For Further Information

To read more on how to prepare for drying off, including the drying off checklist, and a very handy free downloadable guide, just click here to download guide