News & Advice

The science behind the art of drying off cows

Mar 4, 2020 | Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare

Katrina Roberts, Herd Health Veterinarian, Anexa Vet Services

The first few days after drying off are a high-risk time for cows to get mastitis. This is due to many factors but milk leakage (teat canal not sealed yet means bugs can get in) and residual milk in the udder (great food for bacteria) are key contributors.

We can reduce the chance of infection over the dry period by using either (or both):

  • Teat sealants;  which act as a barrier preventing infections getting into the udder, and 
  • Dry cow antibiotics;  which remain in the udder during this high risk period and kill bacteria that get into the teat canal before an infection can establish. 

While these products are highly effective, management of the “drying off” process of cows is also important to reduce milk production and milk leakage. Even the best products may be rendered ineffective where milk leakage or high bacterial challenge occurs.
Research locally and overseas states that if cows are producing more than 12 L/day before drying off they are at increased risk of intramammary infection. Therefore, we should be encouraging high producing cows to start the udder involution process before drying off. 

So what tools are available to encourage cows to reduce milk production? 

Before drying off
To reduce milk yield before drying off reduce total energy intake, reduce crude protein intake (e.g. reduce autumn grass, PKE, and high protein concentrates, and increase hay and maize intakes) and reduce milking frequency in the week before drying off.

After drying off
The cows should be kept well away from the cowshed and feed pad (if it is near the cowshed) for at least 10 days after drying off. Also, keep energy intakes in the week after dry off at maintenance level. However, care is required to ensure that paddocks are not excessively contaminated with faecal matter during this high-risk period.
Reducing energy intakes pre- and post-dry off will reduce body condition score. So dry off early enough to ensure that BCS targets can be met. 

The dry off date for a specific cow thus depends on: 

  • age 
  • body condition score 
  • expected calving date 
  • mastitis risk 
  • milk production in late lactation. 

At your milk quality consult this season expect your vet to be asking questions about your drying off process. We aim to work with you to get the best outcome and the best return on your dry cow investment.

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