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Selective Dry Cow Therapy - the new norm for Dairy Herds

Selective Dry Cow Therapy - the new norm for Dairy Herds

Kevin O’Hara, Education Officer, Teagasc Ballinrobe, discusses how Selective Dry Cow Therapy has become the new norm for Dairy Herds.

With the evenings closing in, it has come to that time of year when farmers will have started drying off early calved dairy cows, first calved heifers and possibly cows in poor BCS. This dry cow period is critical to the cow’s survival in the herd and subsequent lactations going forward.

A dry period is recommended for three reasons:

  1. To replenish body reserves (allowing cows to build up for the next lactation);
  2. To regenerate mammary tissues;
  3. To optimise the benefits of hormonal changes that occur around the time of parturition/ calving 

Currently a 42 day dry period is the minimum recommended, with many farmers opting for 60 days for spring calving cows with longer required if cows are in poor condition pre drying off. 

Cows which are continuously milked or are not given adequate time between drying off and calving, can produce between 20-25% less milk in the subsequent lactation than cows that received an adequate dry period. With these figures we can estimate that this will cost the farmer in the region of €600 - €800 per head in lost milk sales at today’s milk price for an average production herd.

There has always been a range of methods for drying off cows up until now, but, this has changed with a mandatory push towards selective dry cow therapy now in effect, due to new European legislation which took effect from January, 2022.  This means that farmers will no longer be allowed to administer dry cow tubes to all quarters of all the cows in the herd (blanket dry cow therapy).  Only sealers will be allowed to be used on the whole herd and a mix of dry cow tubes and sealers used on the high risk cows. The push towards this is in relation to anti-microbial resistance which is becoming a major issue in the agricultural industry due to over use of antibiotics, which is also causing issues with antibiotic effectiveness in humans.

Poster reads Reduce antimicrobial use, reduce AMR

Below we will look at the key points to a successful selective dry cow therapy plan for a typical dairy farm.

  1. SCC has been consistently below 200,000 over the year.
  2. Incidents of mastitis in dry cows is below 10% in previous years.
  3. High levels of hygiene must be achieved at drying off and throughout the dry cow period.
  4. Regular milk recording with at least 1 recording a month prior to drying off and also mid-way through calving (week 3-4 to pick up cows which may have become infected over the dry period)
  5. A good working relationship with your veterinary practitioner who can advise for your specific herd, this may include a culture and sensitivity analysis. (Vets will now need to prescribe dry cow tubes to cows on an individual basis and this can only be done where there is a history of mastitis in the individual animal).

As this legislation is now mandatory for farmers it is crucial to put a plan in place and possibly complete one last milk recording before drying off to pick up any high SCC cows if milk recording is not done routinely. Further guidance should be sought from their veterinary practitioner, Co-Op, Animal Health Ireland or local Teagasc Dairy Advisor.