Cows dried off below the target condition score for calving of 2.5 to 3.0 often cannot regain enough condition over the eight weeks they are dry.

Thanks to co-funding from producers and the exchequer through AgriSearch and DARD this issue is being investigated by AFBI, Hillsborough.

 The modern Holstein-Friesian dairy cow was bred to produce high milk yields throughout lactation. When these high-yielding cows do not consume enough energy to meet their requirements, they break down their own body-tissue reserves to provide energy for milk production.


 This mobilisation of body tissue is particularly evident in early lactation when the energy requirements for milk production are at their greatest. Cows normally begin to regain this lost body condition from approximately day-100 of lactation onwards. However, if diet quality is poor or if grazing conditions are difficult cows may reach late lactation with less than ideal body condition scores.


Conrad Ferris
Conrad Ferris - Head of Dairy Research at AFBI


 Previous AgriSearch-funded research at AFBI Hillsborough demonstrated that cows gain relatively little body condition during an 8-week dry period. Thus, cows with below-target body condition scores at drying-off will generally be too thin at calving, with AFBI research showing that these cows are more likely to be culled during the subsequent lactation.

  Consequently, it is generally recommended that cows are dried-off at the target body condition score for calving of 2.5 to 3.0. For this reason, strategies need to be developed to allow thin cows to gain body condition in late lactation.

Hence the decision to have this issue examined by scientists at AFBI Hillsborough co-funding by DARD and AgriSearch through the Research Challenge Fund (RCF).

The effects of three late-lactation and dry-period management strategies are being examined. These strategies consist of;

 (1) Offering cows 5 kg of a standard ‘control’ concentrate (17% protein) each day for five weeks prior to drying-off at 8 weeks pre-calving,

 (2) Offering cows 5 kg of a ‘low-protein’ concentrate (13% protein) each day for five weeks prior to drying-off at 8 weeks pre-calving,

 (3) Giving cows an ‘extended dry period’ by drying-off at 13 weeks pre-calving.  


  This study will examine the effect of these management strategies on milk production and food intake in late lactation, body-condition-score change during the dry period, calving difficulties and calf live-weight, and cow performance during the subsequent lactation. All cows will remain on the study for 19 weeks after calving and full results of the study will be available later this year.