Animal Health

Budgets and compromises

By Rod Dyson

Tough conditions in the dairy industry have seen every farm closely scrutinising costs in an effort to allocate available funds to the most cost-effective options in virtually every area of their operation.

The cost of treatment at drying-off is one of the areas under examination and we have been having some interesting discussions with farms about the best option with the least amount of compromise for that individual farm.

To have those discussions, it is good to reflect on what we are trying to achieve at dry-off, both for the individual cow and for the herd.

For the individual cow, the group being dried-off and the herd as a whole, drying-off is generally the single biggest opportunity to make a difference to the infection status of those animals, and it is also the best chance to reduce the risk of mastitis at the subsequent calving.

This means we should consider options and compromises in terms of two broad goals for drying-off — firstly, the treatment/cure of existing infections and secondly, the prevention of new infections both during the dry period and especially at calving.

It is also important to remember that the effectiveness of these outcomes will be determined not just by what treatments are applied at dry-off, but also by how we go about the overall dry-off process.

The treatment options will include antibiotic dry cow therapy, internal teat sealant (or a combination of both), whole herd therapy, selective therapy, and maybe different choices of these options for different cows or groups of cows.

It is an ideal time to have a discussion with your vet to achieve the most cost-effective option for you, with the minimum amount of compromise.

It will be of great help in your discussion with your vet if you have at least some background information available, which is likely to include some of the following:

What is your bulk milk cell Count history for the last two years?

What are the mastitis bacteria likely to be in your herd? Do you have recent milk culture results?

How many, and which cows, are likely to be infected? Do you have herd test results available?

What is your preferred length of dry period?

Do you have a history of higher than optimal levels of clinical mastitis around calving? Countdown suggests that if more than 5 per cent of cows have mastitis within the first two weeks following calving, it is likely to be a significant problem.

If you are not already using teat sealant, should you be considering using it?

What is the environmental risk likely to be during the calving period?

What is your budget?

How the actual dry-off process is managed also has a significant impact on the outcomes. It is likely that a discussion will consider:

The timing of drying-off.

How you will get each cow’s production at dry-off down to below 12 litres/day, but above 5 litres/day as recommended by Countdown.

Management of cows on the day of dry-off.

The actual technique for administration of treatments.

Handing and management of cows both immediately post dry-off and for the next few days.

A successful dry-off program will successfully transition each cow from being a milking cow to being a dry cow, maximise the effectiveness of the dry cow therapy in terms of both the cure of existing infections and the prevention of new infections, and avoid antibiotic residue violations, especially when the cows calve again.

And because it is usually a significant investment of money, as well as time and effort, it is probably worth doing well!

The options chosen at drying-off are usually the single biggest influence on the risk of mastitis at the subsequent calving and early lactation, so if finances have resulted in compromises to your dry-off program and you have had to choose an option at drying-off that was not necessarily “the best”, there are some “workarounds” at calving time which will help to lessen the risk of mastitis at calving.

Next month, we’ll look at some of these options to help reduce that risk, commonly with little or no monetary expenditure, because no matter what option you decide on, prevention of clinical mastitis and new infections at calving has got to be a good outcome for the rest of the lactation.

■ Rod Dyson is a veterinary surgeon and mastitis adviser at www.dairyfocus.com.au