Add comfort to your dry cow protocol

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health

Cow comfort is important at all times, but especially at dry-off. Animals dried off may experience udder engorgement and milk leakage — resulting in less rest time, a higher risk of mastitis infections and increased discomfort.

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to drying off cows, every protocol should be centered around animal well-being.

“Cows don’t raise their hands when you ask the question, ‘Hey, are you feeling okay during this dry-off?’,” said Brad Rohrer, Meadow Lane Dairy LLC. “They rely on us to know their health status, and to do what we can to keep them comfortable.”

Minimizing discomfort

Historically, producers have reduced milk production before dry-off — and reduced the impending discomfort — in a few different ways. They can move animals to a separate pen and feed a lower-energy diet, or they can cut back on the number of milkings just before dry-off.

“As a producer, you don’t like to see cows having to deal with that irritable feeling of being full of milk,” expressed Rohrer. “It’s like a child with a stomachache. We want to do whatever we can to help prevent that feeling.”

A new method is to provide cows with an oral mineral supplement designed specifically to reduce milk production. This approach can help to maintain cow comfort and well-being at dry-off without any additional management changes.1

“The supplement is given by giving two oral mineral boluses at, or eight to 12 hours before, the last milking,” explained Stephen Foulke, DVM, DABVP, Boehringer Ingelheim. “It helps to reduce the amount of milk produced by causing a temporary decrease in blood pH, similar to what is accomplished with DCAD diets.”

The reduction is accomplished via two pathways, both resulting from the drop in blood pH:

  • A reduction in glucose transport into mammary alveolar cells which decreases lactose synthesis and causes a reduction in milk production.2,3
  • A decrease in dry-matter intake reduces net energy and subsequently, milk production.4

“On our operation, this approach has reduced the number of animals encountering problems at dry-off and in that critical time following dry-off,” said Rohrer. “It’s a great resource, an easy way to help cows dry off comfortably, and it has no negative impact on milk production in the upcoming lactation.”

Aside from your chosen method of reducing milk production before dry-off, an effective dry cow protocol will include a variety of management practices and products, based on the unique challenges of your herd. Dr. Foulke recommends working with a veterinarian to establish a protocol that also includes a dry cow treatment, a teat sealant and a vaccination program.

Putting cattle first

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to drying off cows, every protocol should be centered around animal well-being. To prioritize cow comfort through the dry period, focus on the following:

  • Maintain an overall atmosphere of cleanliness. Remove manure as soon as possible, and provide plenty of clean, fresh bedding.
  • Install and maintain proper cooling systems including fans, shade and sprinklers.
  • House cows in a building with proper ventilation. This will help avoid high humidity in the winter and heat buildup in the summer.
  • Ensure cows have enough space to eat and rest.
  • Feed an appropriate and well-balanced diet. Talk to your veterinarian about adopting a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diet.

“As veterinarians and producers, caring for cattle is what we do,” concluded Dr. Foulke. “Cow comfort should always be a part of that. Good animal welfare is key to the health of the industry, the sustainability of our farms and the confidence of consumers.”