Dos and don’ts when a cow is in a dry period
Dry period in diary production refers to the 50 to 60 days when a lactating but pregnant cow is given a break from milking prior to next calving down.
During this period milking is stopped and the cow given special treatment for maximum production in the next lactation.
It is an important time as the animal takes a rest to replenish body reserves and regenerate milk secreting tissue after months of milking. Failure to observe this period and give your cow a break will greatly undermine its production in the next lactation season.
Cows not taken through dry period will only attain 70 per cent of their milk production potential. Denying an animal this break will also result in other metabolic diseases like ketosis and milk fever and conditions like displaced Abomasum.
Good records management is a prerequisite for proper dry period management, as every day counts.
The number of recommended dry days ranges from a minimum 45 days to a maximum 65 to calving. This is dependent on parity and farm management plan. Cows in their first lactation cycle will need between 60-65 days while older cows can do with fewer days.
Increasing or decreasing these days will have an impact on milk yield in the subsequent lactation. The dry period, has three phases namely the first two weeks, then three weeks to three weeks before calving and the late dry period (last two or three weeks).
Each phase requiring specific attention especially when it comes to feeding and treatment. Since the cow isn’t being milked, avoid giving too much energy feeds.
Concentrates and grains can make the animal grow fat which will predispose it to difficult birth, ketosis, udder edema, downer cow syndrome or abomasums displacement. It is also not economical.
Generally the animal needs adequate but not excessive proteins, minerals or vitamins. Grass pastures are ideal; vitamins A deficiency may occur especially where animals don’t have access to green pasture.
Calcium is important throughout the first two phases but its intake should be reduced as the animal nears the last two weeks to calving down. This is in order to prepare the animal’s body in time to initiate the process of mobilising calcium from long bones and to reduce cases of milk fever.
The main activity during this first two weeks of dry period is cessation of milking, but how you do this is of utmost importance, if not professionally done you run the risk of mastitis.
Some farmers will use incomplete milking; this is not recommended at all as it can easily result in mastitis.
During this phase, the cow is prone to mastitis. Abrupt cessation, reduction of available feed are some approaches that can be applied depending on the level of production.
This must be followed by dry cow therapy in all the four teats. There are several dry cow treatment products in the market; your vet will advise.
Dry cow therapy prevents future mastitis cases while at the same time treating any infections present. It should go hand in hand with cleanliness of the house to reduce chances of mastitis.
The second phase is the longest but also the least complicated.During this phase the animal can be on grass pastures. Your vet will advise on the kind of vaccinations the animal may need.
The late dry period is critical as the cow is in its final leg of gestation; during this time re-introduce grains to prepare the ruminal microbes in advance and lower calcium intake.
Transfer the animal to a calving pen and keep watch because anytime the calf will come knocking ushering in another lactation period. (The writer is a veterinary surgeon working with Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council)-KENTTEC)