Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Good dry cow management is the key to two more lactations

Contributed by Joep Driessen Published on 30 May 2017

Eighty percent of all problems arise in the transition period – 80 percent. Problems like milk fever, ketosis and metritis are a direct result of shortcomings in dry cow management. This is cutting cow lives short. Why don’t we take better care of our pregnant ladies?

An answer to this question is not simple. It can be a lack of clear information. Here lies an important role for vets, feed advisers and hoof trimmers. Also, there seems to be tunnel vision among farmers and advisers that stops them from seeing the shortcomings of the barns. Thirdly, fear of investing money and time will be involved, even though good management doesn’t have to cost more than bad management. Here also lies a task for advisers: Ideally, they can not only provide the right information, but they can also help clients change.



Problems in the transition period are caused by two things: not enough eating and not enough resting. A dry cow can be up to 220 pounds heavier and a lot wider than her herdmates. Therefore, she needs a deep, soft bed in which she can easily lie down and get up. We see big differences in dry cow resting times, ranging from six to 15 hours per day. Cows need at least 14 hours of resting time. Three minutes more rest means one minute more to eat. Next to that, the risk of pressure lameness is a lot higher with that extra 220 pounds.

Breaking through tunnel vision means looking critically at housing and management. The most important thing is making maximum lying and eating possible. Pay attention to the cow signals: A standing cow is a bad signal. Solutions are bigger stalls for far-off cows and a stress-free calving environment for the close-up group, as well as plenty of space for postfresh cows. Make sure you have one feeding place per cow. In older barns this can be a bit more difficult, but there are plenty of creative solutions for that.

A lot of farmers feel held back by the investment it takes to improve dry cow facilities. A good adviser can help with this by showing farmers how much time and money they’re losing by not changing:

  • Every sick cow costs on average $330.
  • Every lactation you lose needs to be compensated with new young stock. In 2015, the average cost for raising a heifer was $2,500, according to the University of Wisconsin Extension.
  • Dairy cows produce more in later lactations. Farmers miss this extra free production completely by culling early in the cow’s productive life.

Insufficient attention for the transition period costs farmers every year. Not every improvement has to be expensive. Take a first step and see that this earns itself back. After that, go for the next step.

Most feed advisers, vets and hoof trimmers are doing exactly what they’re being asked: advising a quality ration, treating sick cows and trimming hoofs. Excellent advisers, however, can also offer advice on management and housing, and help break through tunnel vision. Next to that, a truly good adviser is also able to help farmers change.


Don’t take the easy way out. The transition period causes 80 percent of all problems. Invest in what gives you the most results. The cows deserve it and so do the farmers.  end mark

Joep Driessen is the founder of CowSignals Training Company.