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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care January 2007

Happy New Year Folks--

As we enter the heart of winter, many of you will be drying off cows at this time in anticipation of the spring flush. Therefore, I’d like to talk about drying cows off – what to do and what not to do.

While drying off can be a stressful period for the cow, it is only very temporary and not at all like the stresses associated with calving time. Most farmers plan for a traditional 60 day dry period. I support this. There are studies of cows dried off for only 30-45 days, but the results are mixed as far as cow health is concerned. At dry off, most cows will have been declining in milk to a point where not milking them will not cause any major problems, other than the cows’ temporary discomfort of an udder not being milked out any longer. It takes about 5 days for the hormonal signals between the cow’s brain and her udder to quit producing milk completely. It is best to abruptly stop milking the cow for this process to occur efficiently. If you milk the cow once a day or every other day, the “stop” signal will not occur as it should. So stop milking abruptly but keep dipping her teats twice daily for 2 weeks until the keratin plugs naturally form. Some folks ask if the commercially available bismuth subnitrite product that immediately creates a plug in the teat is allowed yet for organic usage. The answer is no, since no one has officially asked for the product to be reviewed for inclusion on the National List. However, cows with healthy udders can simply be dried off without much further thought.

What is a healthy udder? For dry off purposes it can be said that cows that have a linear somatic cell count of 0-4 (<200,000 SCC) are in fine shape. These really, truly don’t need any kind of dry off therapy (tubes and/or shots), whether conventional or organic.

But what about cows that have high somatic cell counts? In a very conservative sense, any cow above 200,000 SCC could be considered a high count cow. But in reality, I would say that it matters what the trend of the cow has been over the lactation. If she has been at 400,000 (linear score of 5) the whole lactation, I wouldn’t necessarily treat her with anything unless she is showing some flakes at dry off. Cows at 800,000 (linear score of 6) probably need some extra attention at dry off, especially cows that may have been much lower during most of the lactation but have quickly increased near dry off. While it is normal for cows to have a higher SCC towards dry off, obvious increases in SCC  or flakes demand extra attention. Cows with linear SCC of 7, 8, or 9 definitely need some kind of treatment so they don’t flare up during the dry period.

The dry period is a time when the udder is “on vacation” and can rest prior to resuming milk production the next lactation. During its resting time, many problems can be cleaned up by the cow herself if her immune system is working well. But sometimes we may sleep better if we administer a treatment to a cow that has had some problems in the past.

Treatments to dry off cows may range from some extra nutritional components all the way to injectables and udder infusions.

First, if coliform mastitis has happened on a farm of 40 cows in more than one dry cow or fresh cow within the last year, consider using the coliform vaccine (Endovac Bovi or J-5) to prevent this horrible condition. Vaccinating a herd of 40-50 cows against coliform is cheaper than one clinical case (direct treatment costs for the sick cow and recuperation time, loss of milk, and possible loss of a quarter). Most coliform cases happen either in the first two weeks dry or in the last two weeks prior to freshening when the natural teat plugs haven’t yet formed or are dissolving prior to lactation, respectively. It also occurs in fresh cows that leak milk, especially when there is sawdust or ground peanut hull bedding. Dipping teats twice daily may help.

For cows that have high counts but not showing any flakes (or maybe just a few tiny flakes) consider using 5cc Immunoboost given under the skin or in the muscle. This can lower the SCC for up to two months, which is a perfect amount of time for a dry cow. Alternatively, using a 30cc dose of Agri-dynamics Biocel CBT under the skin for a high count cow could be beneficial.

The botanical mastitis tubes (PhytoMast) that I personally manufacture in my office (using surgical hygeine) have shown good results in clinical mastitis - if it is of recent onset (within 7-10days). It helps moderately swollen quarters and quarters with actual flakes or stringy mastitis, but I don’t recommend the botanical tubes for rock hard quarters or Staph aureus cases. While using these mastitis tubes over the last year, I have also found out that farmers will use these tubes on problem cows at dry off. I hadn’t thought of using them that way as I am not usually present when a cows goes dry, but so far all the farmers that have tried these tubes as a dry cow treatment have been very satisfied, especially when the cows come back into lactation better than they did the previous year. I would recommend these tubes for drying off cows that have a linear SCC of 7, 8, and 9 or if their SCC has jumped up recently just prior to dry off. The usual treatment is one tube in each of the cow’s quarters, and then dry her off. A minor variation on this would be to use the tubes and then wait 5 days, check the cow’s milk, and retreat if needed.

Most farmers use these PhytoMast tubes for cows mainly during the course of lactation. If anyone is interested in using these tubes for mastitis, I would be willing to culture the milk of the cow prior to treatment and again 7-14 days after the last treatment – with the milk culture being free. This helps to gain information regarding which types of mastitis this natural treatment is best suited. PhytoMast has been allowed by various organic certifiers across the country. The normal treatment time for lactating cows is one tube in the affected quarter for 4 milkings in a row, holding the bad quarter out of the tank during treatment and for 12 hours extra. Use of a quarter milker for any quarters selected to not go into the bulk tank is encouraged.

Using 10cc vitamin E and selenium (MuSe) under the skin or in the muscle would be a good idea prior to dry off but especially once the cow is dry and ready to calve in about 2 weeks. This will not only help the uterus to potentially clean better, but also help reduce high SCC.

While I have my own way of working with animal health and mainly base my treatments on a scientific basis, there certainly are other ways to go about treating cows, especially drying them off. The following people and companies have my endorsement:

Dr. Richard Holliday with the Impro company has a very good protocol for dry off, using their whey products (1-800-626-5536). I am also impressed by John Rathmel of Van Beek Scientific products and protocols (John is in Lancaster , 717-371-8677). Jeff Mattocks at the Fertrell Company, here in Bainbridge Lancaster County , also has good protocols for animal health (717-367-1566). Jerry Brunetti at Agri-Dynamics always has good ideas and products – his number is 610-250-9280.

This year I have plans to carry out clinical research trials and will be concentrating on studying some of the treatments that I have been using with your cows over the last 11 years. I also look forward to working more with the folks like Jerry, Jeff and John who are dedicated to furthering scientific knowledge and bringing sound information and treatments to dairy cows.

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

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