Overlooking Dry Cows Is Risky Business

Published on: 18:26PM 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.