Conversations: June 2011: Complete dry cow programs
The dry cow period is pivotal to the success and productivity of the next lactation. It offers the best chance to cure existing intramammary mastitis infections, but also demands close attention to prevent new infections between lactations. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or across the kitchen table), the conversation should confirm they are taking the proper steps to set dry cows up for success.
By Doris Ledwith, Quality Milk Manager
1) How can producers better manage mastitis at dry-off?
Dairy producers need to think differently about dry-off. It isn’t just a time when cows aren’t producing milk, but rather an opportunity to clear up mastitis infections and start the next lactation with a clean slate. Complete dry cow programs should encompass treating existing infections and preventing new ones.
The most important step to maximize dry-off efforts is to treat every quarter of every cow. Selective dry cow treatment is risky. Even a cow with an unnoticeable subclinical infection needs to be treated and handled properly in the dry period to ensure she is at peak performance at freshening.
Work with your veterinarian to implement culturing and record-keeping programs. Knowing the pathogen profile allows you to tailor dry cow treatment to bacteria prevalent on your dairy, increasing its effectiveness. Keep treatment and somatic cell count (SCC) records to help you assess and adjust dry cow programs.
Ask your veterinarian to help you establish appropriate dry cow treatment protocols based on records.
2) What factors should be considered when making product decisions for dry cow treatment?
Treating with the right product is critical. Your veterinarian can help assess product choices based on your farm’s pathogen profile, management needs and demonstrated safety and efficacy of dry cow products.
Consider milk and meat withholding times when making treatment product choices. Products with short withdrawal times and flexible management options offer an advantage to producers who wish to limit their residue risk.
Make sure you have written treatment protocols and records in place to ensure withdrawal times are upheld. Follow product labels and train employees on protocols to limit your risk of violative residues.
Ask your veterinarian to provide recommendations for dry cow treatment and discuss residue avoidance programs.
3) How can producers prevent mastitis during the dry period?
Prevention is key. Vaccinating against Escherichia coli mastitis leading up to dry-off boosts the cows’ immune system during the transition period when they are most susceptible to disease. Using an E. coli vaccine helps lessen mastitis severity and increase treatment success rates. Monitor and adjust nutrition and environmental hygiene during the dry period to help cows maintain a healthy immune system.
I also highly recommend producers utilize an internal teat sealant following antibiotic dry treatment. Teat sealants provide a physical barrier between mastitis-causing bacteria and the udder. Be sure the sealant is administered in a clean and aseptic manner and only after dry cow treatment is completed. Don’t seal in bacteria for the entire dry period.
Ask your veterinarian to update your vaccination and dry cow protocols to step up prevention efforts.
4) How do environment and housing play a role in dry cow health?
It’s not surprising that we pay more attention to facilities for lactating cows. However, dry cow or heifer facilities often are more crowded and cleaned or bedded less frequently. Producers need to limit the exposure to bacteria and other immunological stresses in both the dry and fresh pens. Environmental management to prevent new infections impacts not only milk quality, but also the health of the animal.
Ask your veterinarian to conduct a hygiene score of your dry cow facilities.
5) What role do heifers play in milk quality?
Heifer mastitis also deserves attention, especially if your heifers are freshening with high SCC. First-calf heifers should produce the highest milk quality in the herd, because they have never been milked. If not, take action to rectify the situation.
Many heifers lose their keratin plug two weeks pre-freshening, leaving them vulnerable to bacteria. Manage heifer facilities and vaccinate to boost immunity and limit a heifer’s risk of contracting mastitis.
Ask your veterinarian what steps you can take to ensure milk quality from your heifers.
6) How can dry cow programs be monitored and assessed?
You’ll never know how effective, or ineffective, your dry cow program is without writing protocols and monitoring treatment and milk quality records. Your herd veterinarian is your first resource.
Work with your veterinarian to monitor SCC at dry-off and post-freshening to identify subclinical cases that develop within the first 30 days of lactation. If fresh cow mastitis is prevalent, you may need to reassess your dry cow mastitis management. Consider changing treatment protocols, increasing the use of teat sealants or improving environmental management.
If problems persist, protocol adherence might be the issue. Train employees to properly administer dry cow treatment and internal teat sealants. Print out protocols and make them accessible. Proper use posters in multiple languages also can provide reminders about the importance of appropriate administration.
Ask your veterinarian to analyze your dry cow program and train your staff on dry-off procedures.