High milk yields before drying-off increase the risk of udder infections during the dry period. An online survey highlights what drying-off methods are currently used and how farmers rate the ‘incomplete milking’ approach for reducing milk yield.
The transition from lactation to the dry period is a sensitive stage for dairy cows and is accompanied by an increased susceptibility to mastitis. Since high milk yields at the time of drying-off are increasingly common, the process is associated with greater risks for the health and wellbeing of cows. Incomplete milking in the final days before drying off is an approach for reducing milk production as preparation for the dry stage.
How do Swiss dairy farmers dry off their cows?
Together with the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Bern, Agroscope conducted an online survey to determine current drying-off practice on Swiss dairy farms and the potential for introducing incomplete milking before drying-off. In March 2021 an online survey was sent to a representative sample of 1974 Swiss dairy farmers. A total of 518 completed questionnaires were evaluated. At drying off, 35% of the cows were still producing substantial amounts of milk (> 15kg/d); moreover, the higher the annual milk yield, the higher the milk yield was at the time of drying-off.
Just under half of the farms dry their cows off ‘cold turkey’
Forty-five per cent of the farms used the ‘cold turkey’ approach to dry-off cows. Respondents reported behavioural changes in the cows such as increased vocalisations and reduced lying times in connection with the drying-off. Selective drying-off was used on 74% of the farms, and 44% of the respondents stated that antibiotics were used “fairly often”, “often” or “always” when drying-off cows.
The correlation analysis revealed that the frequency of the observed behavioural changes and of antibiotics use during drying-off also increased along with increasing annual milk yields. Drying-off protocols that reduce milk production before the dry period while supporting the wellbeing of the cows are therefore needed.
Farmers interested in new approaches to drying-off
We noted that farmers were interested in testing the presented ‘incomplete milking’ approach. In addition, farmers stated that they would be more willing to test incomplete milking before drying off if it were available for automatic use in milking parlours or with milking robots. Uncertainties concerning udder health seemed to be the main stumbling block for the introduction of this approach.
- As the annual milk yields of the cows increase, so too does the frequency of the observed behavioural changes and of antibiotics use during drying-off.
- There is a need for alternative approaches for reducing milk production before drying-off whilst maintaining the wellbeing of the cows.
- Farmers show an interest in testing an alternative approach based on incomplete milking, especially if the uncertainties concerning udder health can be eliminated.
- Incomplete milking can help reduce milk production before the dry period and thus reduce antibiotics use during drying-off. This in turn helps maintain the health and wellbeing of the cows.