Shorter dry period puts more milk in the tank and reduces work load – Fleckvieh observations and formal research review

New Research Suggests Shorter Dry Periods Puts More Milk in the Tank (OMAFRA)

A European Fleckvieh farm impresses with short inter calving periods and rebreeding on first heats.

I have been impressed in many European dairy farms that are breeding with Fleckvieh exclusively , the high components in the milk and great reproductive performance with strong first heats after calving. One such farm unit visited in recent years can be seen at

Their age at first calving is at 25 months of age. Inter calving period is 380 days. Fat: 4.14 % and Protein 3.49%

Fleckvieh tend to show strong first heats which makes it such that breeding is done right away in order to have a calmer barn environment. With good heat detection reproductive rates are improved. This particular cow shown below is a BFG Waldhoer daughter in her second lactation – standing heat at 56 DIM: She is milking 30 L per day with 4.45 % butterfat and 3.93 % protein components.

Standing heat in a Fleckvieh cross cow

Recent research suggests:

It’s time to question tradition and rethink current advice on the dry period’s ideal length in our dairy herds. A recently published study from Florida and other research suggest shorter could well prove better.

Currently, it’s recommended that you dry cows off 50 to 60 days before their predicted next calving date. This advice is based on numerous studies that analysed dairy herd improvement records 20 to 30 years ago. These studies showed that cows with dry periods longer than 60 days or shorter than 45 days produced less milk than what was predicted from their previous lactation.

While this is useful information, it’s not conclusive proof that cows need 45 days dry. Sorting out why cows had longer or shorter dry periods is impossible because no reasons for chosen dry-off dates were given. Since 50 to 60 days dry was the industry norm at the time, the group outside these limits likely included many cows with problems.

For example, the group that was dry more than 60 days would have included cows dried off early due to new mastitis infections. If these infections persisted they would obviously hurt production in the next lactation. Cows dry less than 45 days included many individuals calving early with twins or having near-term abortions caused by disease-also lowering production.

Modern management advice for feeding during the 60-day dry period includes switching the cow to a low energy, far-off dry-cow diet for 30days, followed by 30 days of a higher energy close-up ration. Three ration changes and three social group changes in this short period may be partly responsible for the lower feed intake reported around calving time. Managing two dry cow groups and two separate diets also adds to the labour and management complexity of the herd.

Perhaps a shorter dry period would make it possible to dry off cows in proper body condition directly into a close up group. Potential nutritional benefits of a single dry cow diet were pointed out in the May 2003 Ruminations column.

A study by M.S. Gulay and co-workers at the University of Florida involved healthy cows at the university that were intentionally given a shorter dry period. The study randomly assigned 84 Holstein cows to one of three treatment groups. One was dried off at 60 days before expected calving date, and was fed a far-off dry cow ration for 30 days, followed by a close-up ration until calving. The other two groups were milked right up to 30 days before calving, and then switched directly to the close-up ration. One of these groups was also given a special drug treatment intended to speed up the changes that take place in the udder at drying off.

In the following lactation, the researchers found, cows with 30-day dry periods had a higher feed intake in the first month of lactation and maintained better body condition scores than cows dry for 60 days. Milk production during the first 10 weeks and over the entire lactation was the same for all groups. However, the additional month of milking at the end of the previous lactation resulted in an extra 510 kilograms of milk per cow for two groups dry for just 30 days.

Three other studies have reported similar results:

  • In a Dutch trial, when 36 cows were given either 60 or 30 days dry, the cows with the longer dry period produced 123 kg per cow more milk in the next lactation. This was more than offset by the 483 kg per cow produced in the extra 30 days milking for the short dry period group.
  • In another Florida trial, cows with 30 days dry produced 9,112 kg of milk in the next lactation, which was not statistically different from 8,897 kg for cows with a 60-day dry period
  • In Wisconsin, R.R. Grummer and R. Rasini used three groups of cows. One group received 56 days dry, 28 on a far-off ration and 28 on a high-energy close-up ration. A second group received 28 days dry and the same close-up ration, and a third group was not dried off, but did receive the close up diet for four weeks. The cows that were not dried off produced five kg. less milk per day in the first 10 weeks of the next lactation, but there was no difference between the 28 and 56-day dry groups. Feed intake at calving was higher for cows with shorter dry periods, and preliminary results suggest these cows also cycled and conceived earlier.

Continuous milking system – no dry period:

A more extreme example is to run cows with no dry period. It is a “continuous milking system”. One such farm exists in Canada`s prairie province of Manitoba. Cows and bulls are housed in open free stall group pens of up to 320 head. Angus beef bulls are placed into the pens for breeding. The milking cow is the only category of animals that exist on farm as the calves are sold off the cow after calving. Bedding and cow comfort are important to make efficient breeding with Angus bulls possible.

One TMR with up to 68% forage content serves as feed. Post calving het cows milk production drops considerably and resumes to between 19 and 25L. Components are Fat: 5.4 % and Protein 4.2% . A lot of animals in herd are Jersey, Holstein or Fleckvieh crosses. The farmer reports management being simpler and issues with ketosis being lesser since the milking cow adopts more of a self regulated production output based on her cycle through the year. This farm experiences close to 3 lactation as average.

Is Your Farm a Candidate for Shorter Dry Periods?

We need on-farm experience to assess the merits of shorter dry periods further. If you’re thinking about experimenting with this, your herd should meet these criteria:

  • most cows should be in proper body condition and milking well in late lactation;
  • the herd should have accurate breeding records and a proven ability to have cows in the close-up group for the planned number of days;
  • there must be excellent records for mastitis treatment and a willingness to discard milk from early calvers;
  • labour efficiency for milking should be high enough to justify the time invested in milking late-lactation cows, and there should be an identifiable benefit from eliminating the far-off dry group.

Where these conditions are met, 35 to 40-day dry periods and a single dry cow group can mean more milk in the tank, higher feed intake in fresh cows and fewer groups to feed and manage in the barn.