When calf-care expert Sam Leadley visits a dairy to diagnose a calf-health problem, he often starts his investigation at the dry-cow facilities. Often, the farm owner will protest, “But it’s my calves that are sick!”
Leadley assures the owner that the two are connected. Doing a better job with dry cows is an opportunity to improve calf health as well, explains Leadley, of Attica Veterinary Associates in Attica, N.Y. It’s the little slip-ups in dry-cow management that can cost you dearly — both in terms of calf health and milk production.
Take, for example, the problem of not providing enough colostrum, or offering poor-quality colostrum. A mature Holstein should produce 10 to 12 quarts of colostrum at first milking. If you only get 5 to 6 quarts at the first milking, the answer lies in your dry-cow program. It could be that the animals are overcrowded at the bunk, or the feeders have slipped some spoiled silage into the ration because, after all, “it’s just the dry cows.” Fix these, and quantity and quality of colostrum will return to normal levels.
During his 16 years working with calves and heifers Leadley has developed the following checklist for dry-cow management. Use it determine if someone is sabotaging the dry-cow program at your dairy.