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July 2010 Archive for Dairy Today Healthline

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Dairy Today Healthline

Using Effective Dry Cow Programs to Reduce Mastitis

Jul 29, 2010
Copy (2) of Mark Vanderlist b

By Mark van der List, BVSc MPVM


The landscape for dairy exports is changing and with it comes an evaluation of management strategies to reduce mastitis in the cowherd.


Increasing scrutiny of somatic cell count (SCC) levels at the farm level will force many producers to take a closer look at how they prevent and treat clinical and subclinical mastitis.


The first place a dairy producer might make improvement is in the dry cow program.

Dairy cows acquire most new infections during the dry period. Cows are at peak risk for new infections at dry-off and just before calving. The vast majority of these new infections are with gram positive bacteria such as environmental staph, environmental streps and Staph aureus. These intramammary infections are subclinical and may remain so during the subsequent lactation; although a percentage of the infections will eventually result in a case of clinical mastitis.


Dry cow management and treatment is fundamental to successfully reducing mastitis in the cowherd. Dry cow treatment and management can accomplish two things in mastitis control:

  1. Cure subclinical gram positive mastitis cases persisting from the previous lactation.  Treatment during the dry period generally results in higher cure rates than during lactation.1
  2. Prevent new infections. 

 I recommend the following six dry cow strategies to reduce mastitis and keep SCC levels lower:

  1. Mastitis tube selection: The ideal tube will cure existing infection and prevent new infection and therefore the antibiotic needs to persist in the quarter the complete length of the dry period.  This may necessitate some milk withhold at the beginning of the new lactation.
  2. Dry cow tube administration: It is important to always use proper technique when infusing a tube. This means hygienic preparation of the teat and taking care not to damage the teat end by using minimal insertion tube ends.  Make sure to use a teat dip after insertion.
  3. Environment: Dry cows need to be housed in a cool, clean, and comfortable environment with dry bedding to minimize exposure of the teat end to bacteria.  Avoid overcrowding. Also ensure that the calving areas are clean and dry.
  4. Pay close attention to nutritional needs of dry cows. Pay special attention to protein and energy requirements, minerals and vitamins.  If mismanaged these can all negatively affect the cow’s immune system, which could result in greater incidences of post parturient diseases including mastitis.
  5. Discuss with your veterinarian the benefits of vaccination against coliform bacteria and the possible use of teat sealants to reduce new intramammary infections.
  6. Consider culturing fresh cows for mastitis pathogens. This can help identify cows with pathogens such as Staph aureus and Mycoplasma, as well as cows that have acquired a new subclinical infection during the dry period.

You need to continually monitor your dry cow program. I recommend that producers measure individual cow SCC levels toward the end of a lactation and then compare these to SCC levels in first part of the next lactation. When you compare those numbers, an effective dry cow program will maintain or reduce SCC levels below 200,000, the threshold level that indicates an intramammary infection.


Another effective measure of your dry cow program is the number of clinical cases of mastitis occurring in the first 30 days of lactation. An increased number during this period should alert you to re-evaluate your dry cow management. The dry period is critical for mastitis control in dairy herds.


1 Dingwell RT et al. Management of the dry cow in control of peripartum disease and mastitis. Vet Clin Food Anim 2003;19:235–265.



Mark van der List is a Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., and is based in Davis, Calif.


Overlooking Dry Cows Is Risky Business

Jul 07, 2010
mills bradley

By Dr. Bradley Mills, senior veterinarian, Pfizer Animal Health


Dry cows are often forgotten on a dairy operation. After lactation and dry treatment, cows frequently move to a remote location or off the dairy completely until they are closer to calving. But, even though these cows are out of sight and out of mind, research shows that dairy producers could benefit by paying more attention to dry cow care.


Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that even with routine dry-off treatment, about 25% to 30% of dry cows may have quarters that maintain chronic intramammary infections during the dry period.1 Cows that maintain a chronic infection are four times more likely to develop clinical mastitis than their uninfected counterparts. Many cows also develop new infections shortly after calving.


Cows calving with mastitis will produce at least 5% less milk than their healthier counterparts.2 Research also shows that cows with clinical cases before breeding remain open 44 days longer than cows without mastitis.3 Females infected early in lactation will have lower peak milk and reduced production throughout lactation. All of these factors leave a lasting negative impact on the producer’s bottom line.


A comprehensive approach to dry cow management helps prevent these losses by ensuring a healthy transition from the dry period to a new lactation. This approach should include the right products, tools, and environmental and nutritional considerations. There are several key components to proper care:


  • Proper disease prevention — Experts advise producers to dry-treat every quarter of every cow to control and cure infections during the dry period. Using an inert non-antibiotic teat sealant in addition to dry cow therapy can further prevent infections by 20% to 60%.2
  • Clean and dry environment — Dry cows are at high risk of new infections since the teat canal is no longer routinely flushed during milking. Producers should provide a clean environment with minimal bacterial contamination throughout the dry period to reduce the risk of new infections.
  • Sanitary calving area — Most new infections are picked up shortly after calving. Provide a clean, dry calving area with 4” to 6” of sand, coarse limestone or other porous materials covered with long straw. Remove straw after each calving. Keeping this area clean is equally important for the calf’s health as it is for the fresh cow’s udder health.
  • Maximum immunity — Fresh cows are highly susceptible to all types of disease, including intramammary infections. Producers should support the immune system with a properly balanced transition ration, adequate bunk space and a vaccination program designed with input from the herd’s veterinarian.

Each case of mastitis will cost producers approximately $200 in total losses from decreased milk production, lower milk quality premiums, increased culling and death.3 Making sure cows get off to a successful start to lactation is an investment that offers payback in multiple ways. Take the time to properly prepare and manage cows for the dry period. It’s an investment in future milk production as well as in mastitis protection for the rest of the herd.

For more information on dry cow mastitis programs and milk quality, visit www.milkqualityfocus.com.




1   Ruegg P, Pantoja J, Hulland C. Intramammary infections and somatic cell counts across the dry period. Presented at: XII Curso Novos Enfoques Na Producáoe reproducáo de Bovinos; March 6-8, 2008; Uberlândia, Brazil.


2  Deluyker H, Gay J, Weaver LD. Interrelationships of somatic cell count, mastitis and milk yield in a low somatic cell count herd. J Dairy Sci 1993;76:3445-3452.


3  Salfer J. Preventing early lactation mastitis. Univ. of Minnesota Extension. Available at: www.extension.umn.edu/dairy/dairystar/salferpreventing_early_lactation_mastitisnov2008.pdf. Accessed June 9, 2010. 

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