## Selective dry cow therapy – targeting cows that need it
For decades, the usual way to dry cows off has been to administer blanket antibiotic dry cow treatment to each teat of every cow. While this has been effective at preventing certain mastitis problems in the dry period, there is now clear evidence to show that treating every cow may be unnecessary.
It is also not an efficient or responsible use of antibiotics. In fact, using teat sealants instead of antibiotics is one of the easiest ways to reduce the use of antibiotics on your farm.
But only 68% of UK dairy farmers report to have heard of selective dry cow therapy1, suggesting that many may be using unnecessary antibiotics in their herds.
## What are the benefits of selective dry cow therapy?
By only using antibiotic treatments on the cows that really need it at drying off, you can save money by instantly reducing your farm’s use of antibiotics.
This also helps reduce the risk of contributing to antibiotic resistance developing. Studies have shown that, when used correctly, teat sealants alone can be just as effective as using antibiotic dry cow treatment in cows with a somatic cell count <200,000 <sup>2</sup>
## Which cows to select
When using selective dry cow therapy, it is extremely important to know which cows you should treat with antibiotics and which cows should receive only a teat sealant. The exact criteria for deciding this should be tailored to your individual farm and it is best to develop the plan with input from your vet.
It is important to use the somatic cell count data from milk recording in order to select cows at high risk of mastitis at dry-off, in combination with clinical mastitis records and California milk testing.
For example, on a typical farm, cows that could be eligible for teat sealant only might have:
- An average somatic cell count <200,000
- No clinical mastitis in the previous lactation
- Somatic cell counts <150,000 for the last three recordings before dry-off
- Clear California milk test at drying off
While this is typical of selective dry cow therapy criteria, it is important to tailor it for your individual farm in collaboration with your vet.
For example, if you have problems with Staph. aureus bacteria in your herd it may be that blanket dry cow therapy is best until this problem is under control.
## Important points to remember
Using a teat sealant only is very effective in reducing the risk of new infections during the drying off period. However, it is extremely important that the teat sealant is applied in the most hygienic way possible to prevent introducing bacteria to the udder when you dry off.
The use of teat sealant is different to antibiotic dry cow tubes – you want the sealant to stay in the teat canal, as opposed to being infused into the udder.
It is worth speaking to your vet about the correct way to apply teat sealant. Before starting selective dry cow therapy, it is wise to make sure everyone on the farm is trained to use it properly.
Maintaining clean and dry bedding during the dry cow period, and at calving, is also very important, along with appropriate dry cow nutrition. Try walking on the dry cow bed to see if it squelchs under foot. All these factors work together to help support the cow’s immune system at this stressful time.
So, if you are currently using antibiotics on all your cows at dry off, it’s worth asking your vet about designing a selective dry cow therapy plan suited to your herd to help reduce unnecessary use.
1.Alderton, S. Exclusive survey results: Use of antibiotics on UK dairy farms. Farmers Weekly 18th September 2015
2.Crispie, F., Flynn, J., Ross, R. P., Hill, C., & Meaney, W. J. (2004). Dry cow therapy with a non-antibiotic intramammary teat seal - a review. Irish Veterinary Journal, 57(7), 412–418.