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Mark Moloney, InTouch Feeding Specialist,
Keenan, and Sarah Maher, Technical Sales
Advisor at Alltech, look at e ective dry
cow management and o er some tips for
laying the foundations for the cow to milk
to her full potential over the lactation
This time last year saw many farmers heading into the
winter with silage stocks depleted. This meant that feeding
silage only to dry cows was not possible in most cases.
Bought-in silages, maize silage, wholecrop, straw and
meal got a lot of people through the winter. This forced a
change in mindset when it came to dry cow management
and diet formulation. In a lot of cases, due to an increase
in supplementation throughout the year, cows were dried
o in better condition than normal, meaning they needed
a maintenance diet for the dry period. If these bought-in
forages were analysed for minerals and balanced for energy
and protein to support maintenance requirements, cows
calved down quite well, with no issues. If not, then there
were some metabolic disorders that would be associated
with increased body condition, or in simple terms, fat cows.
These issues were mainly due to cows being dried o in a
body condition score of more than 3.5.
The dry period is fundamental in laying the foundations
for the cow to milk to her potential over the lactation.
To ensure the dry period is successful, we look at four
essential pillars: body condition score; management;
nutrition; and minerals.
Body Condition Score (BCS)
The BCS of cows at the di erent stages of the lactation
cycle needs to be monitored and is the most important of
the four pillars. The scale of 1-5 is used - 1 being skin and
bone and 5 being over-fat. The three most critical stages to
monitor BCS are at drying o (BCS 3), calving (BCS 3-3.25)
and breeding (minimum of BCS 2.75). If 90 per cent of
the herd is within this range at each stage, there should
be few issues at calving and high conception rates at
breeding. While the three most critical stages are outlined
above, body condition should be monitored throughout
the lactation and any significant issues identified at 200-
250 days in milk should be dealt with from that stage (late
lactation) and not in the dry period. There are di erent
issues associated with high and low BCS at calving.
High BCS can have a negative e ect on NEFA (non-
esterified fatty acid) levels, BHB (beta-hydroxybutyrate
concentration and blood calcium levels.
NEFA levels are a good measure of negative energy balance
post calving leading to metabolic disorders such as ketosis.
Studies have shown that the ideal condition post-calving
(BCS 3.25) produced less NEFA compared to fatter cows
(BCS 4). This meant that cows in ideal condition lost less
weight post calving. Further research shows that these
cows will have a longer interval from calving to first service
and depressed peak milk yield On the opposite side, cows
in low BCS (less than 2.5) are less likely to go back in-calf,
milk yield is reduced and more inclined toward lameness.
At farm-level, management can be an issue when
implementing a correct dry cow system. Seasonal calving
and compact calving are ideal, but not without flaws. In a
spring calving system, the blueprint is to have 90% of the
herd calving in six weeks. The herd goes completely dry
around Christmas week and are all going to get around
60 days dry. This does not happen in most cases, with the
average six-week calving at 68%. If the herd is all dried o
together, then there will be some cows getting up to 100
days dry. These are the cows which will become over-
conditioned and have issues when calving. Best practice
should always be followed where possible and always bear
in mind that changes made in the dry period can have a
knock-on e ect throughout the lactation. Group changes
can have a negative impact on dry matter intake. Dry cows
should be moved to the calving box no closer than 14 days
pre-calving (where possible, as this would require a large
amount of space, due to the compact calving system). If
movement is required immediately, then pre-calving as
late as possible (water bag, feet showing) is the correct
procedure. Dry cows need one cubicle/cow and one feed
space and 90% of a stocking rate three weeks pre-calving.
A feed space would be considered at around two feet
per cow, so 100 dry cows would need 200 feet of feed
space. This often seems to be an oversight on farms when
deciding how many cows they can house. Clean water
should always be available for dry cows. A rough guideline
of five centimetres of trough length should be available.
Cleaning troughs is essential, as faecal matter will build
up. This should be done weekly. If cows are at grass then,
preferably, they are housed for a month pre-calving and are
stocked at 25 cows/ha and given a dry cow diet including
minerals. There should be very little grass on this paddock
and dry cows should not be used to clean up after milkers.
Management of dry cow feed is important. Pit face and
forages used should be monitored carefully for moulds.
Moulds can cause many issues in dry cows that might not
come to the surface until post-calving, such as abortions
or metritis. Mouldy silage should not be fed, and if there is a
suspicion of mould, a mycotoxin binder, such as Mycosorb
A+, should be used.
Where there are no feed troughs, feed should be pushed in
four to five times per day. Weekly cleaning of feed troughs
is required, as feed will build up and become mouldy,
which will depress intakes. If feeding a TMR to dry cows
feed troughs does not guarantee intakes, there can often
be sorting which is not observed. If feeding for two days,
heating can occur.
Feeding the dry cow is fundamental to InTouch Nutrition,
and there is on-going research and many di erent ways of
implementing a dry cow diet, all of which should have the
same outcome: The cow calves down by herself with no
metabolic issues and reaches her peak yield, maintains this
and goes back in-calf as quickly as possible. The InTouch
Dry Cow system is a controlled energy high fibre diet
(CEHF). It is a simple system that provides a single TMR diet
throughout the dry cow period. The use of a controlled
energy dry cow diet is beneficial for peripartum health,
DMI and productivity. To put this into practice, the BCS
of the herd is determined, as is her maintenance energy
requirement, based on the silage analysis, which is 100MJ
Effective Dry Cow Management