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The Drying Off Dairy Cows and Winter Management Guide

Most dairy herds at this point are starting to experience a significant reduction in milk yield, something that is typical at this time of year.  Once herds are achieving a less than desired milk yield my advice is to start drying off dairy cows. For example, if cows are yielding below 10 litres per day, they should be dried off.

Higher yielding cows are often more difficult to dry off than lower yielding cows and therefore take a little more management, all of which can be achieved by altering the diet. Feeding straw for the 24 hours before drying off and 72 hours afterwards is an excellent way of reducing milk production rapidly. Alternatively hay or haylage can be offered.

Correct dietary supplementation

The aim during the period of drying off dairy cows is to keep the animal healthy so they go on to produce a healthy calf and enter back into lactation without any underlying health or metabolic issues. An optimum period of 60 days for the dry period is advisable and it is during this period the aim will be to maximise dry matter intake through offering high-quality silage and achieving a desired body condition score (BCS) of 3.0 at calving. It is important to identify any shortcomings in the forage being fed and counteract with a specific pre-calver mineral.

Connolly’s RED MILLS have specially formulated a mineral range where we pay particular attention to magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and key antioxidants such as selenium and vitamin e. If cows are below the desired BCS it will be important to supplement with some feed, depending on calving date, BCS, etc. At Connolly’s RED MILLS we recommend that the diet of the dry cow should be high in energy approximately 12.5 MJ/KG DM with an overall protein value of 12.5-13.0%. Supplement with effective high energy supplements such as maize meal and beet pulp. Subject to BCS, limit to two to three kg per day to avoid excessive body condition.

Be informed by getting a feed analysis

Once the drying off period is underway it is a good time to assess the requirements for when cows will transition through calving and back into milk. We encourage farmers to carry out a feed budget and a feed analysis to include nutritional and mineral analysis. Recent analysis I have carried out on behalf of our customers have identified issues with high potassium mostly due to excess use of slurry on silage ground. To overcome this problem a dilution of straw at two or three kg per head is advisable. Mineral intervention will be important here.

The big focus should be on the well-being of the cow and a ensuring a smooth transition from the dry period to lactation. Correct evaluation of the diet and feeding rate will have a major bearing on the metabolic profile of the dairy cow at any stage in lactation. The evaluation of the forage can help prevent the prevalence of metabolic disorders such as milk fever, ketosis, metritis, retained placenta etc.

Time to take stock of facilities

It is good practise to check the housing facilities and identify if all the housing requirements will be met for each cow. For instance, is there a cubicle for each cow, is feeding space correct, are water troughs clean.

For further management advice on drying off dairy cows or transiting through the dry period to early lactation, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Connolly’s RED MILLS nutrition team.

  • Tags:
  • Agri
  • animal health
  • animal nutrition
  • calving cows
  • dry cows
  • feeding programme
  • Hay
  • Haylage
  • milk fever
  • silage