Selective dry cow therapy: The way forward for dairy dry off?

Selective dry cow therapy is a key issue coming at Irish farmers, according to Teagasc dairy specialist Dr. Tom O’Dwyer.

O’Dwyer explained why farmers should move towards selective therapy to presenter Claire McCormack on the latest episode of FarmLand this evening (Thursday, November 1).

The head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc Moorepark noted that Teagasc, Animal Health Ireland (AHI) and a number of milk processors recently decided to run joint events on dry cow management.

The events are also “to highlight selective dry cow therapy, because it is an issue that is coming at us, I suppose you could say”, he noted.

“I think the new piece on this is the selective dry cow therapy and how you can implement that across your herd – and that’s the new piece at these events this autumn.

“A colleague of mine says – and I probably fall into the same category – that he has spent the first half of his career as an advisor advising farmers to blanket treat cows at drying off with an antibiotic as a good practice; and that message has been extremely successful in the sense that it’s a practice that has been widely adopted.”

The change now involves advising farmers to migrate from blanket treatment, or giving antibiotics to the entire herd, to selective dry cow therapy, where only a portion of high cell count cows and cows with infections are treated with antibiotics.

Change

O’Dwyer noted that change is understandably slow – same as any change in technology, as farmers stick with the ‘tried and tested’.

“So there’s a process of education of farmers around the issues around antimicrobial resistance, the role farmers can play in trying to mitigate or reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance.”

O’Dwyer said that blanket dry cow therapy is one area that dairy farmers will have to start to look at – adding that “over time, we are going to see more farmers moving in that direction”.

Ultimately the benefit of selective dry cow therapy is there’s less antibiotics used, so there’s a benefit to the farmer in terms of less cost.

The Teagasc dairy expert noted that there is also a reduced risk of antimicrobial resistance developing over time, with a higher-quality product.

“What’s being questioned is the use of antibiotics in a kind of a preventative fashion ‘just in case’.”

O’Dwyer said that this had been the advice shared with farmers and encouraged previously – but the thinking around it as a result of research and findings is changing.

“Some farmers are already dipping their toes into the water as regards to selective dry cow therapy – and that would be my advice.”

Selective dry cow therapy

O’Dwyer urged farmers that are milk recording to think about selective therapy.

However, he stressed that while hygiene is always important at drying off, it becomes doubly important for farmers implementing selective dry cow therapy.

“Because, for the portion of the cows that you identify to dry off just with a teat sealer, you have no antibiotic to cure an infection which may develop over the dry cow period.

“So, if you don’t adequately clean the teat end, there’s a risk of pushing infection into the udder – as I already said – and now you’re just going to put in a teat sealer to seal the teat and you have no antibiotic in the udder to cure any infection that develops.

“The infection develops, and it’s there when you start milking next lactation. So hygiene is even more important if you’re using selective dry cow therapy.”

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