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Producers take control of quality with complete dry cow care

PD Staff Published on 28 February 2013

As demand rises for higher-quality milk, dairy producers must find ways to decrease somatic cell counts (SCC) and increase production. Many dairy producers are turning their attention to the dry cow period and use comprehensive dry cow programs to prepare cows for success in the next lactation.

In this roundtable, five dairy producers share how they are driving changes in milk quality by proactively managing mastitis during the dry period. This approach includes eliminating existing mastitis infections, preventing future infections and limiting severity of cases.

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They also discuss how their complete dry cow program helps lower SCC, reduces fresh cow mastitis, results in fewer lactating cow treatments and ultimately delivers overall better milk quality. Producers using two of the leading companies’ dry cow products – Boehringer Ingelheim and Zoetis – are represented.

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John Brower, owner/herd manager
Ed Brower Dairy, Inc., 1,300-cow dairy in Exeter, California

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Travis Offhaus, herdsman
Offhaus Farms, 1,000-cow dairy in Batavia, New York

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Matt Lamb, owner/manager
Lamb Farms, 5,500-cow dairy in Oakfield, New York

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Rey Aguilar, herdsman
Bar VP Dairy, 3,500-cow dairy in Pixley, California

John Weller, owner (not pictured)
Double Eagle Dairy, in Middleton, Michigan

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What steps do you take at dryoff to manage mastitis?

Brower: Cows are milked one last time before dryoff and then each teat is infused with Spectramast DC (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension, followed by Orbeseal. Each cow is also vaccinated with Enviracor J-5 to help control E. coli mastitis clinical signs. From there, cows go to the dry pen.

Offhaus: Before entering the dry cow pen, each cow is treated with Spectramast DC and Orbeseal. All dry cows also receive an E. coli mastitis vaccination.

Lamb: We complete dryoff procedures on the foot-trimming table. Each cow gets her feet trimmed, and then each teat is infused with a dry cow tube, followed by Orbeseal. We mostly use Albadry Plus (penicillin G procaine novobiocin sodium) Suspension, but for our chronic mastitis cases, we use Spectramast DC.

Once cows are dried off, they receive an E. coli mastitis vaccination. As part of our dryoff protocols, workers wear a fresh pair of gloves to dry off each cow to help prevent any cross-contamination.

Aguilar: Our dry cow program includes Spectramast DC, Orbeseal and an E. coli mastitis vaccine.

Weller: At Double Eagle, we reduce our ration two weeks prior to dry-off. We confirm all pregnancies and monitor the takedown in milk. We then use ToMORROW mastitis tubes along with a sealant. We move the dry cows into a separate pen for one week to monitor for mastitis.

During the dry period, we also use a coliform vaccine and each animal gets a hoof trim with cow comfort and a smooth transition in mind. Means to make sure that overcrowding is not a hindering factor is always watched closely.

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What are the goals of your dry cow program? How do you measure success?

Aguilar: The goal of our dry cow program is to make sure we select the right cows to produce milk for their next lactation. We do not like gambling on what kind of cow we are going to have when she freshens.

So we want to make sure, as much as possible, that we are going to have the cow we want and not what chances bring us. We keep individual cow records and keep track of these records using DairyComp 305.

We review monthly DHI tests and look at days in milk. We monitor the lactating groups and how they’re doing. We also watch the bulk tank somatic cell count to make sure it stays below 175,000.

Brower: Our goal is to cure existing infections and we look to the dry tube to do that. So far with our current dry cow program, we’ve had virtually no mastitis issues when the cows enter the milking herd after freshening.

I manage all health treatments that take place on the dairy. It’s a hands-on, eyes-open approach to make sure our dry cow treatment approach is effective.

Offhaus: We hope to clear up any mastitis infections over the dry period and prevent any new ones. Like most dairies, we use DairyComp 305 to manage individual and herd records. At dryoff, we record dry cow treatment for each cow.

When each cow freshens, her milk is cultured and those results are entered into DairyComp 305. I look at the culture results and dry cow treatment to determine the effectiveness of the dry cow treatment. I also look at how much milk that cow is producing.

In my opinion, your dry cow treatment program sets up everything in your herd. If you don’t have a good dry cow program, you’re not going to have a productive milking herd.

Lamb: We strive to have less clinical and subclinical infections at freshening and to maintain a SCC below 150,000. I monitor fresh-cow startup linear scores to determine the success of my complete dry cow program. I watch to make sure the percentage of fresh cows with a startup linear score of 4.0 or greater remains low.

Weller: The goal for our dry cow program is to set up a good start for the animal’s lactation. We measure success by monitoring our DAs, RPs, days to become pregnant and ketosis. We also measure our dry cow program’s success by recording how many fresh cows are being treated for mastitis.

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Why is the dry cow period important to your dairy?

Offhaus: Dryoff is an important opportunity to do everything we can to care for the cows so they are healthy at freshening. Sometimes bedding conditions aren’t always ideal, as much as you try to keep the cows clean and comfortable.

We look to our dry cow program to help us protect dry cows from these environmental conditions. Since incorporating our dry cow program, we haven’t really had too many fresh cow mastitis issues.

Lamb: I’m a firm believer in the science and that cows require an adequate dry cow period to prepare for calving and their next lactation.

Brower: Our cows are milking hard and we feel they need a rest period to prepare for calving and ramp up for their next lactation.

Aguilar: As I mentioned before, we want to control, as much as we can, the kind of cow we want for the next lactation and take as few chances as possible. The better job we do at taking care of our cows at dryoff, the healthier they will be at freshening and the more milk they will produce during their next lactation.

Weller: The dry cow program at Double Eagle is designed to give our animals enough time to not only rehabilitate but to cure any infection that may have occurred from the previous lactation.

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What factors do you consider when choosing a dry cow tube?

Lamb: My herd is generally a gram-negative herd. Spectramast DC is my tube of choice for cows with chronic E. coli issues.

Brower: We like the broad pathogen coverage of Spectramast DC. We also like that it has a short 16-day meat withdrawal and zero milk withhold after a 30-day dry period, so when our cows come fresh, their milk can go right on the line and into the tank.

Offhaus: With the zero milk discard and short pre-slaughter withdrawal, we have fewer things to worry about in terms of residue issues.

Aguilar: We use Spectramast DC for its coverage against mastitis pathogens. We also like the zero milk discard because we know that as long as a dry cow has had at least a 30-day dry period, her milk is safe to enter the bulk tank after freshening.

It all comes back to the kind of cows we dry off – we dry off the best cows we can and therefore we use the best products available to help us meet our goal. There is no point in drying good cows if we are going to drop the ball by using products that are not going to help us meet our goals.

Weller: We want our choice in dry cow mastitis tubes to be effective, as well as having broad-spectrum coverage to target the multiple mastitis pathogens that exist on our dairy.

We realize that is it key to not only use a broad-spectrum dry cow mastitis tube but to use a product with a long-acting ingredient in order to carry our animals through the dry period.

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Why does your dairy use an internal teat sealant? What are the benefits of adding that step to your dry cow program?

Brower: The teat sealant provides a barrier to keep bacteria from going up the teat end. Sometimes you have a little bit of leakage when they first dry off, but we usually don’t see that on our cows because we use a teat sealant on 100 percent of our cows.

Lamb: About seven years ago, my dairy participated in an Orbeseal trial. Half of my dry cows received Orbeseal after they were dry treated and the other half didn’t. We monitored startup linear scores after the trial group freshened and the results demonstrated cows with Orbeseal entered the milking herd with less mastitis early in lactation.

Offhaus: We use straw-pack bedding in our dry cow pen and, as much as we try to keep it clean, mastitis flareups still happen. Orbeseal helps provide an extra barrier of protection to limit mastitis.

Aguilar: Using Orbeseal year-round, we’ve seen less fresh cow mastitis during the wet months. It becomes critical when we need to dry off high-producing cows.

Weller: We do use a sealant with our dry cow program. The goals of having the sealant in the dry cow protocol are to close any barriers for pathogens to enter the animal during the dry period and to reduce overall clinical mastitis post-freshening.

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How does your dry cow program improve your dairy’s milk quality?

Aguilar: We use our dry cow treatment and try really hard to keep the cows clean so that we can keep lower individual SCC and a lower bulk tank SCC. A lower SCC means better milk quality and more milk production per cow.

Brower: Minimizing mastitis challenges during the dry period sets us up for better milk quality at freshening, minimal mastitis infection flareups/treatments during lactation and higher milk production, which then translates into better returns for our dairy.

Offhaus: Our dry cow program helps us prevent mastitis at freshening so our fresh cows can get into the milking barn a lot quicker, make more milk and not make any stops at the hospital pen.

Lamb: I’m hoping for less clinical and subclinical mastitis infections upfront. I hope to keep more cows in the bulk tank versus out of the bulk tank. Our goal of keeping the bulk tank SCC below 150,000 means that we will have a milk quality bonus of 30 cents. Anything above 150,000 cuts our bonus in half. So that’s a pretty measurable factor.

Weller: A solid dry cow program, without question, lowers our overall SCC and starts the animals off in their new lactation in the best way possible. PD

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