Shorter dry periods mean less time dry, fewer ration changes and more milk. Sounds great right?

But a similar analogy exists to bovine somatotropin, and the kind of advice offered when that product first came onto the market 10 years ago. If your management isn’t up to par, your cows could crash.  So, before you adopt a shorter dry period, take this quiz to determine if your management is ready for the challenge.

The quiz was developed with the help of Meg Cattell, veterinarian, Fort Collins, Colo.; Dan Kluth, dairy nutritionist, Twin Falls, Idaho; and Kermit Bachman, dairy scientist, University of Florida.

Facilities checklist

1. Parlor pressure.

  • If your milking parlor capacity is maxed out — that is, no additional cows can be milked during a 24-hour period — then don’t shorten your dry periods.
  • If your parlor is under-utilized, you can give it a try. Shortening the dry period generally equates to a 5 to 7 percent increase in the effective milking herd size.
  • As parlor pressure develops, a late-lactation-breakeven cow should be dried off to allow a more profitable cow to be milked.

2. Close-up cow facilities. Can you answer “yes” to each of the following?

  • Are your close-up cow facilities large enough to accommodate more cows?
  • Do you have enough bunk space to accommodate the extra cows?
  • Do you have a way to cool close-up cows? Heat stress is a huge enemy in a shortened dry period.
  • Can you provide a clean, well-bedded resting place for each cow each day? Sand-bedded free-stalls are best.
  • Do you have the ability to house and manage cows on a shortened dry period separate from those getting a longer dry period?
  • Will you visually inspect close-up pens for signs of overcrowding, depressed feed intake and cleanliness on a daily basis?

Management checklist

1. Accurate calving dates are essential. 

  • Therefore, bull-bred herds should not try this practice. 
  • Herds with a high percentage of twins should not try it either, or else you must have a program to identify cows carrying twins, and the ability to house and manage them separately.
  • Palpate cows to verify the accuracy of breeding dates before dry-off.

2. Udder management is critical.

  • Proper dry-cow treatment with teat sealant is required.
  • All fresh cow milk must be tested for antibiotic residues before sale.
  • All fresh cows must be monitored for mastitis and signs of lameness.

3. Get your veterinarian and nutritionist on board. Can you answer “yes” to each of the following?

  • Have you talked to your veterinarian about changes you may need to make in health protocols and dry-off protocols for a shortened dry period?
  • Have you talked to your nutritionist about needed ration changes?


Employee checklist

1. Employee buy-in is needed. Can you answer “yes” to each of the following? 

  • Have you told your employees about the research that supports shortened dry periods?
  • Do they understand that shortening the dry period is not detrimental to cow health?
  • Have you explained that harvesting low amounts of breakeven milk at the end of lactation can be profitable?
  • Have you explained the importance of accurate records, nutrition and care for cows receiving a shortened dry period?
  • Have you provided training for your employees to carry out any changes in protocols?

If you can adhere to the guidelines presented and answer “yes” to all of the questions, you have a good chance at getting positive results from adopting a shorter dry period.