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Understanding selective dry cow therapy

All dairy farms in the UK now adopt the approach of selective dry cow therapy at drying off. It is an approach to help promote udder health and reduce losses.

Historically the approach of using antibiotic therapy at drying off for all cows was adopted to reduce the incidence of contagious mastitis within a herd, such as Staph aureus. With clinical mastitis now predominantly being caused by environmental pathogens, that can still behave in a contagious way, this approach has been succeeded by a selective approach to treatment at drying off.


Our main aims at drying off are to

·         Cure any infected quarters

·         Maintain udder health and prevent new infections during the dry period

·         Reduce new infections post calving

·         Reduce post calving cell count


The decision-making processes in the last 3 months running up to drying off is which cows are in which drying off category and which need to maintain their current udder health and which need to be cured. By taking the correct steps maintaining udder health will promote the cows natural mechanisms for tackling mastitis pathogens.

The policy that is adopted is based on overall herd performance to then make decisions on individuals. A typical udder cell count cut off for selective dry cow therapy is usually between 150,000 to 200,000 cells/ml. This cut off is decided based herd performance, if bulk cell count is high and more cows need the opportunity to cure the threshold at which antibiotic therapy is used is dropped. If the bulk tank cell count is regularly under 200,000 cells/ml then the upper threshold can be adopted.

Cows receiving teat sealant alone usually fall in to this following criteria

·         No clinical cases of mastitis in the last 3 months

·         A cell count under the protocol threshold for the last 3 months

·         A low risk of becoming infected during the dry period or early lactation.


As a recap, drying off should be a hygienic process as close to sterile as possible to minimize the risk of introducing infection into the udder.

Items needed 

·         Drying off list

·         Clean disposable gloves

·         Pre dip

·         Paper towel

·         Surgical spirit

·         Cotton wool

·         Teat sealant

·         Dry cow antibiotic tubes

·         Post dip


1.       Wash down parlour after milking and bring drying off cows back onto parlour.



2.       Wash hands and arms thoroughly and put on a clean pair of disposable gloves. Keep gloves clean and change regularly (ideally between cows)


3.       Use records to check if the cow needs antibiotic tubes or teat sealant alone


4.       If necessary wash any excessive dirt off the teats and udders with potable water and dry with paper towel


5.       Starting with back teats pre dip all four teats and leave for 30 seconds


6.       Starting with front teats wipe all four teats dry with individual paper towel per teat ensuring teat end is wiped thoroughly, there should be no visible contamination


7.       Hold onto the teat, use cotton wool soaked in surgical sprit to wipe the teat and get the teat end spotless. If there is dirt on the cotton wool repeat with a clean piece. DO NOT LET GO OF THE TEAT



8.       Whilst holding onto the teat insert half of the tube nozzle and gently infuse. Pinch the teat end with the hand holding the teat and push the antibiotic up the teat with the other hand.



9.       Still holding the teat pinch the base of the teat between your thumb and index finger. Gently infuse the teat sealant feeling the pressure build in the teat and withdraw the nozzle leaving a bleb of sealant in the teat canal. Release the teat



10.   Repeat for the other 3 teats

11.    Apply post dip to all four teats

12.    Apply red tail tape

13.   Allow cows to stand for 30 mins before returning to housing


The long term benefit is not only a saving on use of antibiotic use but also improving overall herd health and reduce mastitis rates.



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