Don’t forget about your dry cows

By Emily Wilmes
University of Minnesota Extension

It’s no secret, spring is a busy time for farmers. There’s a lot to be done, and some tasks tend to take priority over others.

Right now, farmers are focused on the fields. In the summer, dairy farmers will be focused on keeping production up and SCC (somatic cell count) low, and insects and pests at bay.

But what about dry cows? Dry cows are an important part of the dairy production puzzle, and it’s important that they are not overlooked.

What happens to a cow during her dry period will influence how she performs as a member of the lactating herd. Let’s review a few key components of dry cow care that shouldn’t go overlooked.

First, and one of the most important, is nutrition. Dry cow rations may not demand the same quality and precision as those for lactating cows, but they are still an integral part of a transition cow management program. The nutrition a dry cow receives can also prevent problems like hypocalcemia, milk fever, ketosis and acidosis. Here are some components of a good dry cow ration to keep in mind:

• Inclusion of trace minerals such as cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc

• Feeding anionic salts to maintain a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD)

• Feeding low levels of potassium to prevent hypocalcemia and milk fever

• Feeding niacin to help reduce blood ketone levels

• Access to plenty of clean, fresh water

Along with nutrition, we also want to think about milk quality and mastitis in our dry cows.

Why is this important? Fifty to 60 percent of all new infections caused by environmental pathogens occur during the dry period, and over 50 percent of clinical coliform mastitis events in the first 100 days in milk originate during the dry period.

Some easy ways to prevent dry cows from calving in with mastitis are treating with a dry cow mastitis tube, maintaining a clean environment, and vaccinating to maximize immune defenses.

Lastly, consider if and how you cool your dry cows on hot summer days. Research trials done on cooling dry cows have shown an improvement in milk production and all the subsequent calving, ranging from a couple of pounds per day up to 11 pounds per day. Cows that are cooled for the entire dry period performed better than those that were cooled for only a part of the dry period. Consider shade, fans, and even sprinklers where your dry cows are housed, as the profit from higher milk production can help offset costs.

There are many things happening on your farm, but don’t forget about your dry cows. Nutrition, mastitis management, and heat abatement are just some of the aspects of dry cow management to consider. If you have additional questions, visit www.extension.umn.edu/dairy.

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