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Dry Cow Management Basics 101

Jim Dickrell

It’s pretty basic stuff: The next lactation starts at the end of the previous lactation.

But what does that actually mean: “Dry cow and pre-freshening feeding and management programs directly impact post-calving health, production, reproduction and profitability,” says Donna Amaral-Phillips, a dairy specialist with the University of Kentucky.

“We are even learning that these feeding and management programs can affect the fetus and the fetus’ future performance,” she says.

There are four basic areas to focus on for effective dry cow management:

• Don’t let dry cows get fat. Cows need to go dry at 3.0 to 3.25 body condition score, and no greater than 3.5. Then, they need to maintain this condition through the dry period and not gain weight, says Amaral-Phillips.

“After calving, cows should not lose more than 0.5 body condition score,” she says. “Cows which lose little or no body condition rebreed quicker and result in embryos with improved survivability.”

• Don’t overfeed energy; feed enough protein. Dry cow rations should be balanced to 0.60-0.62 Mcal NEL/lb of dry matter for the far-off dry period. That means watching the amount of corn silage and grain fed.

“For close-up cows that will not be fed a special fresh cow diet after calving, energy density can increase to approximately 0.66 to 0.68 Mcal NEL/lb dry matter,” she says. These close-up diets should also contain adequate levels of metabolizable protein (which is protein that reaches the intestines). Feed  1,200 – 1,400 g MP/day to close-up cows and not just adequate amounts of crude protein.

• Mineral and vitamins important. Mineral and vitamin mixes should be force fed through the grain mix to ensure adequate intakes. For close-up dry cows, low potassium forages should be fed, says Amaral-Phillips. These diets should also contain anionic salts to minimize both clinical and subclinical milk fever. Trace minerals and vitamins are important to improve immunity and fight off infections after calving, she says.

• Limit stress. “Close-up dry cows should be provided with 36”of bunk space, adequate resting space (one stall per cow or 100 square feet of bedded pack space), and cows should not be added to this group more than once weekly,” says Amaral-Phillips. “If possible, springing heifers should be housed separately from older cows.” She also recommends providing shade and sprinklers for all dry cows in summer.


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