Reduction of antibiotics during dry-off period

Consciously dealing with antibiotics has already been a point of attention within the agricultural business for a long period of time. Currently, there are increasing discussions about the reduction of the (preventive) use of antibiotics in the agricultural business. The reason for this is that by reducing the use of antibiotics, the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria will also go down, which is of great importance for the health of our cows as well as for us as human beings.

Management, Cow health

The chance of bacteria entering the udders is a daily risk, but a healthy cow is most likely able to clear this attack of bacteria through her own immune system. To optimize and stimulate the overall health and well-being of the cow it is important to ensure that your cows:

  • Are in optimum condition.
  • Do not experience stress.
  • Have a healthy rumen.

Within the lactation cycle, the dry period is the most important phase for a dairy cow. During this stage the cow and her udder are preparing for the next lactation, so any abnormalities during the dry period will have a negative effect on the cow’s overall well-being and milk production after calving.

We should be aware that there are two critical stages during the cow’s dry period when udder health is at high risk; the first week after drying off and the week prior to calving. During the first critical stage the udder’s natural defense mechanism - a keratin plug in the teat canal - is formed, while in the second stage, prior to calving, this plug slowly disappears in preparation of lactation. The keratin plug prevents bacteria from entering the teat canal during the dry period.

To prevent and reduce infections you should firstly focus on a low overall infection risk within your herd and barn. A high infection risk can occur in one of two ways: from the surroundings or via other cows in the herd. Reducing the overall infection risk seems logical but requires a lot of attention and good management. The following matters should be taken into account.

  •  Provide a fresh, low-bacteria environment for the cows (proper ventilation, isolation and no over- crowding).
    • Provide clean and dry cubicles for laying down (low-bacteria bedding material, proper settings of the cubicles and clean floors).
    • Make sure your robot is clean and hygienic (arm, cups and brushes; clean and replace according to standards provided).

Secondly, with a view to a hygienic environment with a low infection risk we may well ask ourselves an important question: ’Do I need to treat all of my cows with antibiotics prior to drying off?’ or in other words ‘Can I reduce preventive use of antibiotics on my farm without an increased risk for my cows’ health?’ 

Analyzing individual cow cards within T4C prior to dry-off can provide you with valuable information that can be used to make a decision on the treatment approach. Figures 1 and 2 show two examples of individual cow cards.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Looking at the graph in figure 1, you can see several conductivity attentions during lactation on the left front teat. This indicates that this individual cow needs attention and a specific treatment prior to dry-off. In this case you could consider carrying out a double treatment. First, treat the individual teats with antibiotics and then close the teats with a teat sealer. You could even consider treating only the right and left front teats with antibiotics in combination with teat sealers for all teats.

An analysis of the graph in figure 2 tells us that this particular cow only has an incidental conductivity attention in the middle of her lactation. In addition, you could take the SCC (Somatic Cell Count) of this cow into account. Based on the graph in figure 2 and the low SCC (<150.000) of this cow you could consider applying only a teat sealer prior to dry-off, since the risk of mastitis is low for this specific cow.

In summary, you should monitor and analyze the udder health of your cows very closely to prevent intrusion of bacteria and to keep your cows healthy. Important (management) pre-conditions to take into account are: dry-off at  milk production of <15kg, ensure a proper and hygienic treatment box for dry-off, the use of a teat sealer, a clean overall environment for the cows, well balanced feeding during the dry-off period, etc. In addition you should monitor and analyze how well the lactation develops in terms of udder health and adjust the treatment accordingly.

Lely also advises you to consult your local veterinarian if you would like to implement ‘selective dry-off’ within your management. In this way you ensure a well-founded adjustment of your dry-off management, which may result in a reduced use of antibiotics without an increased risk of mastitis. In addition (depending on your country and/or local regulations) a reduced use of antibiotics on your farm will save you money.