How to successfully prevent udder infections after drying off I Mshindo media

Dry Cow Therapy

  • Do you find more than 10% of your cows calve in with a somatic cell count of more than 200,000 cells per ml?
  • Do more than 1 in 10 of your cows have a positive CMT test at 4 days post calving?
  • Have more than 1 in 12 of your cows developed mastitis in the first 30 days of lactation?

If you have found that you would say yes to any of these three questions, it would be worth you reviewing the steps of your dry cow management and making the relevant changes.

Recent research has found the link between infection during the dry cow period and subsequent clinical mastitis and elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) in early lactation.

We have created a list of 10 steps that will help you make the necessary changes to your dry cow management process

Assessing body condition score

Aim for body condition scores of 2.75-3 at drying off and 3-3.25 at calving1. It is a well-known fact that over-conditioned cows are at increased risk of negative energy balance in the transition period and that this has a direct link with the immune function of the cow2.

High yielding cows

Cows giving 20 litres or more at drying off are more likely to pick up new infections and these may cause problems in the next lactation cow3. If you see a high percentage of cows leaking milk post drying off, it may be worthwhile altering your management. Some farmers have been successful in reducing energy/protein content of feed in the run up to drying off.

Take specialist advice prior to altering feeding strategy, as any major dietary changes can affect dry matter intakes.

Hygiene at drying off

Drying off cows should be done as a separate job at the end of milking. It is essential to scrub teat ends with cotton wool and methylated spirit before introducing antibiotic dry cow therapy or teat sealants to avoid introducing infectious pathogens along with it.

Use OrbeSeal® to ‘seal up’’

Consider using a teat sealant such as OrbeSeal® alongside your antibiotic dry cow therapy.

Treat cows with antibiotic dry cow therapy as advised by your vet. The theory of using a combination of dry cow antibiotic and Orbeseal is that the antibiotic helps ‘clean up’ any existing udder infections and OrbeSeal® ‘seals up’ the teat, preventing new infections right up until calving.

Not all teat sealants are the same. Thanks to the scientifically proven properties of the silica component in the formulation, OrbeSeal® moulds to the shape of the teat canal and creates a protective barrier against mastitis.

After dry off measures

Keep the cows standing for 30 minutes after drying off to ensure the teat canals have closed before the cows are moved to the dry cow accommodation. If possible, house recently dried off cows away from the sound of the parlour to help a rapid reduction of milk production.

Tips for the summer: management at pasture and fly control

If dry cows are at grass, use rotational grazing where paddocks are grazed for a maximum of 2 weeks and rested for a minimum of 4 weeks. This is to avoid build up of harmful bacteria such as Strep. uberis in areas where the cows lie.

In the summer months controlling flies can have a beneficial effect on reducing the risk of udder damage caused by biting flies. As the weather becomes warmer fly populations will multiply rapidly. This can be controlled by regular application of residual pour-on pyrethroid treatments such as deltamethrin (for example Fly & Lice Spot On).

Dry cow accommodation

Good dry cow cubicle management using mattresses which are bedded at least once daily and use of a disinfectant. On many farms all the attention is focused on keeping the milking cows as clean as possible but the same principle should also be applied to dry cow cubicle management.

Hygiene at calving

Calving pens should be cleaned out regularly. It is a balance between providing older cows with enough grip to get up and avoiding build up of infection in the calving pen which can affect both udder and calf health. The bedded area for calving cows should be in the region of 15m².

Involve your vet

Your veterinary surgeon can help you identify which cows to sample for bacteriology and give you subsequent advice on treatment and prevention of clinical and subclinical mastitis.

On average, many cows in a herd may have subclinical infections present. Milk appears normal but after culturing, mastitis-causing pathogens can be detected in the milk.  It is important to use an effective dry cow mastitis product on the day of dry-off in every quarter of every cow. Before treatment, pre-dip with germicidal teat dip and dry after 30-45 seconds with a clean towel.

Cross-section of a teat

Next, each teat end should then be cleansed with alcohol. Carefully remove the protective tip from the treatment tube cannula. Insert the cannula only partially into the teat canal. Do not insert the entire cannula. To increase your herd’s ability to fight new infections, an approved teat sealant should be used for an extra barrier of protection. Following treatment/sealant, teats should be dipped with a barrier post dip. Studies have shown that 70% of cows that have a high somatic cell count at dry off can be cured during the dry period with effective dry cow management practices. It has also been found that new infections develop in 10-15% of cows that are not treated at dry off (Jones, 2009). Dry cow therapy effectively prevents new infections from developing during the early dry period.

Over the past few years, more producers are experimenting with selective dry cow treatment methods to help reduce costs associated with treatment at dry off. This method is where only some cows are treated with an approved treatment at dry off versus all cows. In order for this type of management practice to be successful, herds must meet milk quality standards such as:

  • All cows in the herd are free of contagious mastitis.
  • Herd must participate in a monthly milk testing program.
  • Meticulous records are kept on the farm.
  • A teat sealant is used at dry off on all cows.
  • Staff are well trained at managing dry cows and overall herd health.
  • Dry cows are well managed in a clean, dry environment.
  • Herd always has a somatic cell count (SCC) lower than 200,000.
  • Herd utilizes a coliform mastitis vaccine.
  • Individual quarter cultures are routinely performed to identify mastitis-causing pathogens.

If management standards are lacking in even one area, your farm may experience increased treatment costs during the next lactation due to new infections that developed during the dry period.

Housing and Environment

Dry cows are no different than any other animal on your farm. They should be provided with an environment that will minimize exposure to dirty conditions. Dry cows need to exercise and to get off concrete. Housing plays an important factor in providing an environment with reduced bacterial populations. Filthy, damp, or muddy stalls, bedded packs, or pastures continually expose the teat end to large amounts of bacteria. When dry cows are provided a pasture or dry lot it is important to fence off all ponds, streams, swampy areas, and ditches. Cattle crossings should be built to keep cows out of water and prevent erosion of stream banks. Many cases of coliform mastitis and/or reproductive infections have developed from these types of conditions. It is also important to provide adequate shade or cooling.  If only one or two shade trees are present, cows congregate under these trees on hot days. This causes considerable manure to build up over a short period of time. Manure build up causes coliform bacteria and other destructive organisms to grow as well as provides breeding ground for flies. Lack of shade can result in serious udder infections.

Flies carry several mastitis-causing organisms that can easily increase the incidence of environmental mastitis.  Flies cause mastitis by biting teats, which results in damaged areas that provide a site for bacteria colonization. Elimination of fly breeding sites is one aspect of fly control. Flies breed in decaying feed or manure that has accumulated around the farm. It is important to implement a fly control program on your farm during the summer and fall. In addition, it is possible that flies can transmit mastitis from infected to uninfected cows making it important to separate dry cows from bred heifers.

Although dry cows may not be contributing to your current somatic cell count, they will be in the future. It is important to herd profitability to maintain good management practices within this group of cows to reduce the chance of mastitis. 

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