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Extended Dry Periods Offer Opportunities, Risks

July 6, 2020

Jim Dickrell

Some dairy producers are still being required to reduce their daily milk shipments as processing plants continue to enforce base/excess plans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated.

With low prices for slaughter cows, some farmers have opted to dry off cows early in order to reduce herd milk production. This approach keeps cows in the herd and reduces feed costs, says Mike Hutjens, an Extension dairy nutritionist with the University of Illinois.

But extended dry periods also present risks, he says, as part of an hour-long webinar hosted by Balchem Animal Health through its Real Science Lecture Series. Extended dry periods beyond 60 days risk cows getting too heavy, calving in with excess body condition and seeing more metabolic disease.

The benefit of an extended dry period is that these cattle remain in the herd, and if properly managed, can have fairly normal subsequent lactations. Hutjens says candidates for extended dry periods are younger, lower risk, healthy cattle who have low somatic cell counts and haven’t had a history of disease or metabolic problems.

“Before drying these cows off, you need to get their milk production down to 40 or 50 pounds of milk per day,” Hutjens says. “So put them on a high-fiber diet first to get production down.”

These long-dry period cows, if they will be dry a total of 50 to 120 days, should be housed in separate group on a maintenance diet, he says. Summer pasture also can work well for these cows. Such rations can drop feed costs in half, from over $4/cow/day at 40 lb of dry matter intake (DMI) to $2 at 30 lb/DMI, he says.

Monitoring body condition is critical. You don’t want dry cows with a body condition score greater than 3.25, he says. Extended dry period cows should be moved to your normal dry group 50 days pre-calving and into your close-up, pre-calving group 21 days before calving. 

Work with your nutritionist to ensure dry cow diets are properly balanced for each phase of the dry period, using appropriate feed additives at the correct times to lower the risk of metabolic problems, he says.


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