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Dairy & Ruminant

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Animal Health

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Livestock Production
Monday, April 28, 2008 7:03:18 PM
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Dry cow feeding and management

Dan N. Waldner



To be successful, dairy producers must master all aspects of dairy management. Proper dry cow nutrition and manage­ment is critical, since decisions made during this period will have a tremendous impact on milk production and health during the next lactation.


A sound dry cow program should be designed to ac­complish the following objectives:


   • Properly nourish the developing calf

   • Maintain optimum body condition

   • Prepare the mammary gland for the next lactation

   • Prepare the digestive tract for the next lactation

   • Minimize digestive, metabolic, and infectious diseases


When setting goals for the dry cow program, remember that no single program will fit all cows or all dairy farms. Man­agers must rely on skill and experience to properly adjust the general program. Factors such as previous milk production, body condition at dry off, previous health history, and age must be considered when developing and adjusting a dry cow management program.


The purpose of a dry period is to allow the cow's udder an opportunity to regenerate secretory tissue and to allow the digestive system to recover from the stress of high levels of feed intake. Aside that, the goal of a dry period is to attain a balance between the gains in production and profit from extending the current lactation with any losses in production and profit in the fol­lowing lactation as a result of fewer days dry.


The recommended method of drying off is to stop milk­ing the cow abruptly. Cows should not be milked partially for several days or milked every other day as a means to dry off. This practice will actually prolong the drying off process and may increase the incidence of mastitis. The pressure of the milk in the udder actually assists in the drying off process.


Cows are especially susceptible to new intra-mammary infections during the first week following drying off and dur­ing the week just prior to calving. Research has shown that 40 percent of all new infections originate during the dry period. National Mastitis Council suggests treating all quarters on all cows at dry-off with an approved dry cow treatment product. A teat dip should be used on cows after treatment, and animals should be observed daily for a week, or until the mammary gland has begun to involute and is not secreting milk. Cows with udders or quarters that become hard and swollen during the dry period may need additional treatment.


During the dry period, cows should be maintained in good body condition. The condition of the cow as she nears the dry period is the best index of how to manage her as she makes the transition from the lactating to the non-lactating group.


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Article made possible through the contribution of Oklahoma State University.
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