What is dry cow therapy & why do we do it?


Mastitis is a common disease in NZ dairy herds and can cause economic losses of around $15,000 for an average-sized herd. Mastitis causes inflammation of the udder and is commonly caused by bacteria entering the teat ends.

There are two main forms of mastitis that can affect your cows:mastitis testing

Clinical – where there are visible changes to the udder or quarter such as redness, swelling, heat, firmness, and changes to milk such as clots, and high somatic cell counts.

Subclinical – this is where there is inflammation of the udder tissue & elevated somatic cell counts, but milk and quarters are visibly normal.

Using dry cow therapy plus or minus teat sealant can help to reduce your farm’s mastitis rate during the dry period and into calving.

The reasons we use dry cow therapy are:

  • At dry off and during the dry period it gives us the means to cure any existing infections to prepare cows for next season
  • It provides protection from environmental bacteria, reducing new infections through to calving time
  • We can also identify cows that do not clear over the dry period, so decisions can be made about culling these.

What combination of treatment is suitable for your herd will depend on your current situation and can be discussed with you vet at a dry cow consult.

Questions you can ask yourself to prepare for a dry cow consult can include:cows grazing

  • Where are you now in terms of bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) & individual somatic cell count (SCC)?
  • How many cases of clinical and subclinical mastitis/per month over this season have you had?
  • And, where would you like to be coming into next season?

A dry cow consult will also help you to decide which treatment is suitable for what animals to help you achieve your production goals in the coming season.

There are several ways that you can choose to dry off your cows these include:

  • Use of dry cow antibiotic alone
  • Dry cow antibiotic plus teat sealant
  • Teat sealant alone.

There are 2 main goals at dry off:

  • To cure existing infections
  • Prevent new infections over the dry period.

Ideally, cows should be dried off between 5-20L/day of milk production. This allows for the DCT to distribute evenly through the udder and helps reduce the risk of residual antibiotic causing a grade at the start of next season. A change in diet to help cows to dry themselves off after treatment is also advised, which you can discuss with your vet. It is preferable to keep cows away from the shed for at least 7 days after drying them off. This prevents them from releasing the hormone that produces milk and decreases chances of leakage of the product.

A successful dry off should:

  • Cure more than 70% of subclinical infections
  • Have <1% clinical cases during the dry period
  • Allow for an acceptable calving mastitis rate of <8% per month
  • Have no mastitis related deaths during the dry period.

When is it ideal to perform drying off?cows udder

Ideally, this should be done in fine weather. This will help to keep teat ends clean and reduce the risk of introduction of bacteria. As mentioned above, cows should be dried off when milk production is between 5-20L/day.

How to correctly insert dry cow therapy:

On the day of planned dry off milk all cows that are to be dried off.

Strip all quarters and look for any clinical cases of mastitis at this time and draught and treat these with lactating cow treatment. They should not be dried off until mastitis has cleared.

Mark any cows that have dry quarters or “3-titters” so they are not accidentally dry cowed.

Send cows to a dry clean paddock with good feed to encourage standing until you have cleaned the yard and set up for dry cowing.

Ideally, you should aim for approximately 25 cows per person per hour if only inserting dry cow antibiotics and 15 cows per person per hour when inserting dry cow therapy plus teat sealant. Remember, Franklin Vets offer services to help maximise efficiency during dry off. Technicians are available to help your team with dry off or even demonstrate how to correctly apply dry cow therapy. Correct staff training is paramount to prevent the introduction of new infections and to ensure you are utilising your product correctly.

Correct insertion protocol:

teatseal trailer

Franklin Vets teat seal trailer

  • Safety is important – make sure you have extra hands on deck if there are any kicky cows that may need extra restraint
  • Have plenty of clean dry gloves available – staff can change gloves when they get too dirty
  • Start at the front teats, move in a clockwise direction methodically and complete cleaning and insertion one teat at a time
  • Clean teat ends thoroughly with teat wipes
    • Don’t touch the teat end after cleaning
    • Re-clean if it gets dirty
    • Use new teat wipes between each teat.
  • Uncap the tube and partially insert into the teat end 3mm
  • Dispense the complete product and discard the packaging
  • If using a teat sealant as well:
    • Massage antibiotic up the quarter
    • Clean the teat end again
    • Uncap and partially insert the sealant
    • Dispense the product, making sure to lightly pinch half way up the nipple so the product stays in the canal
    • Discard packaging
    • Do not massage this up the quarter.

The team at Franklin Vets is here to help you any way we can. We can help with dry cow insertion by supplying a team of technicians, provide a dry cow consult for a personalised plan for your herd, or discuss the options of what products are available.

For more information and demonstrations with easy to follow advice visit the MSD Top Farmers website