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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care February 2005

Note: I will be away Monday morning Feb. 28 thru Thursday afternoon March 3 at a National Organic Standards Board meeting in Washington, DC

Hi Folks,
Since many farmers have dry cows ready to freshen in the next couple months, it is probably wise to talk about dry cow care in this newsletter.

First, we need to start with drying off the cow. One main goal is to make sure that her immune system is functioning well and that the udder stops milk production. We can best help the immune system by feeding the cow correctly. This is most easily observed by the cow's body condition. She ought to be in positive energy balance, having gained weight since peak lactation months before, and yet is not too fat. If over-conditioned at dry-off, simply do not stuff her full of silage during the dry period as that will fatten her up worse yet. I guess I'd rather see a slightly overweight cow going dry than a skinny cow going dry as the rapidly growing calf will keep taking energy from the skinny cow, thereby leaving the skinny cow's immune system not functioning well.

Why do we need the immune system to function during the dry period? I think the answer is rather clear - to have a "well" cow - but also we need to consider that the cow will not be looked after as closely as her lactating herd mates. She therefore needs to rely on herself a bit more if stressful times occur (like the wicked cold weather we just experienced). We need to have the cow's udder happy and quiet, and that requires a healthy immune system as well as clean, comfortable surroundings. To dry the cow off, do not milk her for 5 days straight - this will send the signal to the brain to stop making milk. Then check the milk one time to look for any abnormalities. If you have a high producer that you think won' t stop milking, it would be OK at this time of year to simply feed her straw so she gets rumen fill but little nutrition and also to withhold water for 24 hours. This should stop milk production. Regardless, you should dip her teats twice daily for two weeks as the keratin plug that keeps out environmental bugs is not fully functional yet. This is truly a very wise procedure to do.

If you have a cow to dry off and she has some slight mastitis (high CMT or slight flakes and minor swelling), I would strongly suggest using a colostrum-whey product like Biocel CBT® from Jerry Brunetti at Agri-Dynamics (610-250-9280) and possibly one of my botanical combinations to irrigate the gland. Or, if it is just a high SCC on the CMT or DHIA, using the Immunoboost® can help to lower SCC for a couple months - just the right length of time for the dry period. If interested in using homeopathic remedies, 10 pellets of silica 30C can be given orally or in the vulva once weekly for the duration of the dry period. This may help soften any firmness of the quarter and stimulate the cow to deal with any chronic mastitis.

Keep an eye on your dry cows, as dry cow mastitis is a very difficult condition to battle, with or without antibiotics. The reason I say this is that the cow is usually not noticed until she is well into the problem. By then the cow usually has a high fever, is off-feed and really sick. This can threaten the life of the fetus as well. Sometimes, a cow will be noticed to have a hard quarter and she is eating well and looks quite well. Although it is too late to save the quarter from whatever bacteria invaded the gland, be thankful that the cow made it through the active infection without your help.

After two weeks of being dry, problems are usually minimal with dry cows.

Any springing heifer or cow needs to be on the farm where she will calve at around three weeks prior to calving so the mother cow will be exposed to the farm's germs and create colostrum that will have appropriate antibodies. This will produce the best possible colostrum for the calf about to be born. Due to the placental barriers between the cow and the calf, calves are born with no antibodies and need ½ - 1 gallon of colostrum within the first 6-12 hours of life for maximal absorption. This will then protect the calf against the bugs in its environment that it will face in the first couple months of life. Therefore, at 3 weeks before anticipated calving time, any vaccinations you would want to do need to be done at that time. Do not vaccinate cows between two weeks before and two weeks after freshening since their immune system is suppressed, due to release of internal hormones associated with the end of pregnancy. Some typical vaccinations would be against potential coliform mastitis (Endovac-Bovi®), which cows can easily get on some farms around freshening time, as well as the rota/corona viruses that can cause diarrhea in calves. With vaccination at three weeks prior to calving, the udder will concentrate specific antibodies in the colostrum, which will be available to the calf if the it sucks correctly at birth (or is force fed with a stomach tube) as well as being available to the cow's general system.

If a farm is having problems with retained placentas when there are no hard calving problems, then there may be a selenium deficiency in the dry cow ration (northeast soils are deficient in selenium generally). To best prevent retained placentas (and all the problems that go with them), give an injection of MuSe® at 2 weeks prior to calving. The combination of vitamin E and selenium is a fat soluble complex and will give good levels for about 3 weeks. Alternatively, if a farmer does not want to give injections, feeding Sel-plex® daily to the dry cows would be good. Sel-plex® contains an organically bound selenium source which is very bio-available to the cow from the gut.

Additionally, during the last two weeks before freshening, administering homeopathic caulophyllum 30C daily can help to prepare the uterus for calving. To help actual contractions during labor switch to tincture of Caulophyllum (10 drops every 20 minutes), as European studies have shown this to have positive effects on the muscles of the uterus. Another thing to remember, especially if milk fever has been a problem, is to feed 2 ounces of apple cider vinegar twice daily for two weeks to each dry cow. This can easily be hidden in silage (corn silage is a nice feed during the dry period, if not fed too heavily as it is half grain and half fodder). For organic farms, the apple cider vinegar need not be organic if feeding only for those two weeks.

If a cow was diagnosed as possibly having twins, try to dry her off two weeks earlier than normal as she may likely freshen two weeks earlier than normal. There has been experimenting with shortening the dry period to 45 days or even 30 days, as this will mean less feed that is fed out to a cow not producing milk. Be careful, especially in bull bred herds that do not have exact breeding dates. And remember that the cow's udder needs a good long vacation to fully involute and allow rejuvenation of the milk production cells and immune surveillance cells.

The keratin plug starts to dissolve within the last two weeks of calving and that this is an especially likely time for a cow to come down with coliform mastitis. Dip the teats twice daily for those last two weeks and if she is really bagged up, go ahead and pre-milk her so she doesn t become a leaker. But beware that her colostrum may not be as high quality for the calf.

Lastly, remember that exercise is critical for dry cows to be in good shape for the calving process.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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