Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

0108 PD: Avoid new infections through proper dry cow management

Bradley Mills Published on 21 December 2007

Simply putting cows out to pasture during their dry period is a thing of the past. Today’s dairy needs a dry cow management program to ensure healthy cows and consequently, healthy calves.

There are a number of things going on with cows during their pregnancy – especially those last 30 days. By maximizing the cow’s defenses and minimizing environmental challenges, new infections can be avoided.



Ensuring the cow has proper dry matter intake (DMI), a clean and comfortable place to rest and is guarded from immunological threats help the animal stay healthy and ensure fewer problems in the future.

Proper nutrition imperative
For example, a negative energy balance or deficiencies in vitamin (i.e., vitamins A, D, E) or trace mineral (i.e., selenium, copper, zinc) status during the transition period can result in impaired immune function. Producers should work with a qualified nutritionist to ensure they are following the current recommended nutrient intake guideline for their animals.

Cows are social creatures but still need adequate space at the trough to ensure proper DMI. A reduction in nutrition will impact the cow’s immune system and ultimately impact her profitably over time.

Dry cows that are overconditioned or have limited DMI are prone to other metabolic disorders, including increased downer cows or milk fever, ketosis or acetonemia, displaced abomasum, retained placenta and metritis, and coliform mastitis.

Provide clean, comfortable housing
Cows also need a clean and comfortable place to rest while they are dry. As they are producing the colostral milk, producers should do their best to prevent bacterial contact and entry into the cow’s teat.


The dry lot should provide numerous shade structures and be well-drained. Dry lot location is an important factor in providing an environment with reduced bacterial populations. Filthy, damp or muddy pens or stalls, lots or pastures continually expose the teat end to a barrage of bacteria.

Work with your vet
Non-lactating or dry animals naturally form keratin plugs in the teat canal (preventing such contact), but a significant percentage of cows do not form the plugs. When talking with your veterinarian about the best dry cow management program for your herd, ask about internal teat sealants and their effectiveness in warding off mastitis.

A stressed cow will have poor antibody production in her colostrum. If you plan to feed your cows’ colostrum to the calves, it’s critical to prime the cows’ immune systems so they are able to build antibodies for their calf. The way you do this is through stress reduction and by giving the cow vaccines that will help prevent disease.

Keep the cow healthy, profitable
Successful vaccination during the dry period also allows the immune system to more rapidly and effectively respond to natural infections. While this will not prevent coliform infections, it will reduce duration and severity of the disease. Proper vaccination will not overcome poor management practices.

The dry period can impact a cow’s profitability. Poor dry period management can lead to early removal from the herd (culling), early mastitis events, loss of production and problems with reproduction. Cows are most susceptible to new mastitis infections during the first two weeks of the dry period, the two weeks before calving and the two weeks after calving. PD

Bradley Mills


Veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health