Farmer Focus: Selective antibiotics requires better records

Just like the infamous opening to the Thunderbirds TV show, the countdown to herd dry-off has just begun here.

Drying-off is an exceptionally important task in the year and, as with all priority jobs, preparation is key.

The essential components are time and people, but having your homework done in relation to cow milk records is increasingly important.

As stricter regulation comes into force surrounding antibiotics use, selective dry cow therapy becomes the new norm and this requires a greater level of record-keeping.

See also: 8 essential jobs when drying off cows

Cell count limits

We have set our somatic cell count (SCC) checklist limits. They are an average SCC for the year less than 100,000, no incidence of mastitis, and no individual milk-recorded test SCC more than 100,000 since January.

These criteria generate a list of cows that will receive teat sealer only without dry cow antibiotics tubes.

There are other important little measures, such as clipping freeze brands for easy identification, as well as tail clipping to further reduce the risk of dirt adhering to tail hair and easily transferring to teats and udders.

In those first two to three weeks of the early dry period, the risk of developing infection is five to seven times higher than at other times of lactation.

Our main focus is reducing bacterial contamination of the teats in the drying-off process and immediately after.

We always try to have two people drying off together – one for teat preparation and administering the tubes of sealer or dry cow antibiotics, if required, while wearing a head torch.

The other person speeds up the process by having everything ready to hand, capping tubes, keeping things clean and dipping the teats afterwards with a chlorhexidine-based teat disinfectant.

We find it is easier to work together and get through a line of cows in the parlour as efficiently as possible without having the cows standing too long, as they begin to dung into the pit.

If the weather is favourable, we put the dried-off cows on a paddock for a few days, but if not, they go into the cubicle house.

Keeping the cubicles and general environment spotless during this time pays dividends in reducing the risk of dry cow mastitis.      

Gillian O’Sullivan is a dairy farmer from southern Ireland. Read more.