Dairies Consider Shorter Dry Period

US - An NDSU Extension dairy specialist provides advice to dairy farmers who are thinking about going to a shorter dry-cow program. The economic and management advantages of a shorter and simpler dry-cow period on dairy farms are seriously challenging the traditional 60-day dry period, a North Dakota State University dairy expert says.
calendar icon 17 February 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Shorter dry-cow programs typically are a one-group ration system of 30 to 40 days. Cows remain on a transition diet that includes all the additives commonly used for transition and close-up cows.

"The advantages include simplified cow handling of one group, fewer diet and social changes for the cow, 20 to 30 days of additional milk production, less space in the barn required for dry cows, more focus on care and management of the transitioning cow and increased lifetime production," says J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist.

"The disadvantages include the reality that not all cows fit a one-group program," he says. "There are always overconditioned or underconditioned cows and cows that require special handling. Herds that do not have a tight reproduction management system will have short and long calving dates simply due to inaccurate breeding and pregnancy records. And, because of the higher nutritional levels, the ration costs in the one-group system will be higher."

On many dairy farms, the decision to go to a shorter dry-cow program really is a decision to have a one-ration program, according to Schroeder. But the short dry-cow system also must integrate reproduction, housing and lifetime production goals. Here are some issues he says producers should consider when going to a shorter program:
  • First-lactation heifers may need a longer lactation to complete their growth. That probably is not a problem because their production is more persistent. Plus, the higher nutrient density of the one-ration system will allow more growth during the dry period, if necessary.

  • Reproduction management is critical for one-group systems. Producers must control the calving interval so the feeding program has cows in the right condition at the right time. Target a body condition score of 3.3 to 3.5 as cows go onto the transition diet.
  • Good breeding practices and pregnancy detection can reduce the errors of the wrong breeding date and the resulting missed calving date. Typically, cows will vary 10 days on their calving date. Research shows that 21 days is a minimum for a transition diet to be effective. A normal 10-day variation of calving date on a 30-day dry period will assure the 21-day minimum. A missed pregnancy date may cut it short.

  • The 2001 National Research Council's recommended diet for the close-up dry cow is a good basis for designing feeding programs. What appears to be working well is a compromise between a close-up diet and one that pays attention to some of the needs of the longer-term dry cow.

  • Cows need adequate fiber and good dry-matter intakes, so provide good quality and palatable forage ingredients. Often these ingredients match those used for the middle group diets.

  • The mineral balance should have a negative dietary cation-anion difference. Calcium and sulfur are extremely important. Minimize potassium. Use chloride with caution to balance the minerals to a negative dietary cation-anion difference. The addition of rumen fermentation enhancers, choline, supplemental methionine and lysine, yeast, enzymes and niacin may be important.

  • Producers face difference management challenges if they have 100 or 10 dry cows. For larger herds, the issue is managing groups and pens. For smaller herds, it is managing individual cows.
Many times, pasture can be optional for the smaller herd that needs more flexibility. Problem cows can spend some time on pasture, then move to a one-ration system for the last 30 days of the dry period.

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