Wet, wintery weather often coincides with busy calving periods and an abundance of young and vulnerable calves. A change in weather can exacerbate the environmental challenge of many calf-scour pathogens, resulting in an increase in morbidity at this time of the year.
Not only is drying-off a significant investment in both dollars and effort, it is usually the single biggest opportunity to make a difference to an individual cow’s infection status as well as the overall herd’s mastitis status, and it is also vitally important in helping to prevent new mastitis infections at calving.
So much so, that perhaps we should think of drying-off not in terms of being the end of one lactation, but actually as the start of the next lactation!
Coincidentally, in a recent review of our business, one of the interesting findings was that we have now had detailed drying-off strategy discussions with well over a hundred dairy farm clients.
These were not just a quick “What did you do last year? How did it go? OK, just do the same again this year” chat.
In fact, each of these strategy discussions had taken either close to, or just over two hours – yes, two hours!
Because these were comprehensive discussions, and each of them was followed up with a written summary report, we were able to look back and review what the common issues and opportunities for improvement had been.
We decided to review the latest hundred of these to ensure that our findings were both recent and relevant.
Interestingly, not even one of those sessions resulted in no change being made; every one of those discussions ended with the farm making significant changes to its dry-off routine.
Our first observation was that many of us tend to think of drying-off as what happens on the day that we actually dry cows off, when in fact drying-off is a process by which we transition a cow from being a milking cow to a dry cow.
It involves the period leading up to dry-off, the actual dry-off itself, and then the period immediately after dry-off.
We need to recognise that the potential for mastitis control achieved at drying-off is not just about what treatments we use; it will be a result of the whole process of drying-off.
The way that we manage that whole process will impact significantly on our ability to achieve the best possible result from our dry-off, both in terms of maximising the cure rate of existing infections and also the prevention of new infections.
Our second observation was that there was an amount of new information that was not being considered and/or incorporated into many dry-off routines on farms.
And our third observation was that there was a reasonably consistent pattern to the changes that were going to be made on many of those farms.
Given that most of this potential for change would be discovered during a reasonably detailed discussion with the farm’s veterinary adviser, what might indicate if a farm had significant potential for change?
The end result of this was that we arrived at a set of five questions which most farms could consider prior to their next dry off –
- 1.Have you seen any cows drip milk after dry-off?
- 2.Have you had any swollen quarters, clinical cases of mastitis or sick cows after dry-off?
- 3.Have you had any cows calve early enough to create a problem with withholding periods?
- 4.Have you used internal teat sealant at drying-off and then found cows with little or no teat sealant remaining at calving?
- 5.Is it over 12 months since you discussed cow selection & treatment at dry-off in detail with your vet?
If you answer “Yes” to any of these five questions, you probably should consider a further discussion with your veterinary adviser.
If you answer “Yes” to more than one of these questions, you definitely should consider a further discussion with your veterinary adviser.
These five questions are clearly not a complete and exhaustive list covering every potential dry-off issue, but will quickly expose most of the common issues we identified in our review – it is a great starting point for a discussion.
Given that drying-off is such a significant investment both for the present and the future, and that each clinical case of mastitis that you prevent is likely to save you about $277, surely a few moments for reflection about a possible discussion with your vet is likely to be well worthwhile.
Your Countdown trained vet has a range of tools and resources available to help make your next dry-off the best it could be.
Rod Dyson is a veterinary surgeon and mastitis advisor at www.dairyfocus.com.au