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Get help when drying off this winter

22 December 2023
Type Media Article

Ronan Mulligan, Dairy Advisor, Teagasc Claremorris

An effective dry off period is crucial to ensuring that somatic cell count is managed effectively. The method that is used to dry-off cows can have a huge bearing on how many udder infections establish during the dry period. According to Animal Health Ireland, the risk of infection is 5 – 7 times higher during the early dry period and just prior to calving when compared with during lactation. This underpins the importance of good management and hygiene during the dry off period.

As cows near the end of their lactation, their milk quality changes as the SCC increases and the level of lactose in a cow’s milk decreases. Cows that are producing less that 8-9 litres of milk per day will tend to see significant increases in SCC, despite the fact they may not be infected.

Infections during the dry period can be minimised by the events that take place at drying off with the target been to shut down milk secretion and seal the teat canal as quickly as possible. The sealing process usually taking about 2 weeks. Virtually all new infections that occur, happen because the teat canal has not sealed properly. Therefore, the first two weeks after drying off is crucial in order to minimise the number of bacteria that can contaminate a cows teats. Teat dipping helps to control contagious mastitis that lies present on the skin of the cow’s udder.

The most prevalent form of environmental mastitis is E Coli and Strep Uberis. To prevent the spread of environmental mastitis, ensure housing and hygiene is as clean as possible.

One of the biggest areas where farmers struggle is failing to organise enough help around drying off. This lack of help can ultimately lead to increased infection the following spring. A good rule of thumb is not to dry off any more than 10-15 cows in a day unless help has been organised. Also, make sure that you are not rushing, complete the morning milking and hold back the individual cows for dry off after milking and go for some breakfast! Make sure you are also organised and have the correct materials with you at all times on a trolley or something you can easily bring around. Avoid slouching when administering DCT (dry cow therapy) to avoid any overuse issues associated with the back.

Reports you can use to help make culling decisions;

Culling cows that have had two or more clinical cases of mastitis in the year and or three high SCC readings during the year is a way to reduce the spread of SCC in your herd. It can often be a hard decision to make especially if there is other characteristics that you like about the cow. It’s clear that from viewing farm reports, it’s usually the same few problem cows that are contributing the vast majority of somatic cell problems at farm level. Culling these persistently infected cows will have a significant impact on farm SCC. To help you identify these repeat offenders, use the reports available from ICBF. Your milk recording SCC report helps identify problem cows and make informed culling decisions based on milk recordings completed to date.

Get help when drying off this winter

Figure 1 - Milk Recording SCC Report available on ICBF

Your Cows Own Worth (COW) report, available on your ICBF profile, ranks dairy females, within a given herd, based on each cow’s excepted remaining lifetime profitability considering factors such as milk production, age, level of heterosis and calving date as well as the genetic merit of both the female herself and her future expected female progeny. Milk recording SCC, tests, current and lifetime reports are also available in your ICBF herd profile in order to help make decisions around culling and place the farm in the best possible position going forward.

Contact your local Teagasc Dairy advisor if you require assistance making culling decisions on your farm.