Based on the title, I’m sure you’re expecting a post about the drought we’re currently experiencing. We could use some rain, bad, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
During the afternoon milking on Saturday we dried off 14 cows of the 90 we milked that night. That’s over 15%. While that is a high percentage of cows, it’s not nearly the same percentage of milk. We also should have some cows coming fresh over the next couple of months to offset those we dried up.
Before I go too far, I should probably explain what dry-off means. I’ll start from the beginning. A dairy cow must have a calf before she can produce milk. After she calves, she will produce for several months without having another calf, but it’s important to get her “bred back” (pregnant) quickly because she won’t keep producing forever. The milking period after a calf is born is called a lactation (the first lactation occurs after she has her first calf, and so on).
The exact possible length of a lactation varies depending on the cow and several other variables. If we get a cow bred back quickly she will generally still be producing well, but at approximately 60 days before she’s due, we dry her off. If the cow has had a long lactation we will sometimes dry her off early because her production will drop on its own. DHIA testing has helped us better determine this.
Because of long lactations and also the effects of the summer heat, a few of the cows dried off this time were done early due to low production. All were within 90 days to calving though. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general it’s best for a cow to not be dry too long because the transition back to milking may be more difficult. It’s important for the cow to have a dry period so her energy can go toward her calf and regenerating her udder for continued production.
Drying a cow off involves giving her a couple of shots and injecting a dry-cow treatment into each quarter of her udder. The shots are vaccines that help keep both her and her calf healthy, and the treatments help prevent mastitis for her upcoming lactation.
After dry treating the cows we mark them as dry and haul them to a pasture where they’ll graze until they’re about 3 weeks from calving. At that point they’re moved to a maternity pasture where we can keep an eye on them and transition them back to the milk herd’s ration.
Probably the most exciting part of this particular dry-off was using our new (to us) truck and trailer to haul cattle for the first time!