Posted By: Bibby - Farm Vet

Selective Dry Cow Therapy

Many of you are already performing Selective Dry Cow Therapy (SDCT) on your farms and seeing the benefits.  These include reduced antibiotic usage, reduced milk out of the tank, less risk of accidental contamination of the bulk tank with inhibitory substances and less mastitis in low SCC cows when dried off with teat sealant alone.  

Did you know, cows with a low SCC dried off with an antibiotic and a teat sealant are 12 times more likely to get clinical E coli mastitis compared to cows dried off with a teat sealant on its own? 

You may also have seen that as of the 17th of May 2024 the Veterinary Medicines Directory (VMD) has banned the use of prophylactic antibiotics. Prophylactic usage means treating all animals with an antibiotic, even if they don’t currently have any evidence of infection.  

We are under increasing pressure to reduce our antibiotic useage.  UK farmers have done a brilliant job; between 2014 and 2020 there has been a 52% reduction, this makes the UK one of the lowest antibiotic users in the EU. 

SDCT is one of the tools that we can utilise to help further reduce total antibiotic usage on farms.  To get the most out of SDCT, we need to make sure we are selecting the correct cows.   Cows should have had a low SCC throughout their lactation (the threshold you choose depends on your bulk cell count), there should be no teat end damage and ideally they should be producing less than 15L of milk per day. 

There has been some concern amongst farmers with regards to SDCT, a survey found that although 82% of farmers believed that reducing antibiotics would be good for their livestock, 55% feared that SDCT would result in death or mastitis. 

There is a real risk of killing cows with SDCT, however, this is associated with poor infusion technique or poor management of cows post dry off.   

Scrupulous hygiene is needed when SDCT is used. After selecting the correct cows, we want to make sure these animals are milked out and then not left too long before drying them off.  We recommend drying cows off in the parlour. This is an area that we can keep clean, and the cows are familiar with and likely to be calm in. Teat dip should be applied to all four teats, allowed to act for 30 seconds. Each teat should be wiped clean with a clean piece of paper towel. 

Having a set routine is important. Deciding if you prepare all teats in a clockwise direction, then infuse the last teat first and repeat in an anti-clockwise direction. Or alternatively, prepare the two nearest teats and infuse, then repeat for the furthest teats. 

After the teat dip is removed, we need to ensure that the teat end is sterilized. We recommend using cotton wool and surgical spirit. If there is any doubt over the cleanliness, then the process should be repeated. 

Careful infusion of the teat sealant is important, pinch the base of the teat to ensure sealant is not infused into the cistern. Teat sealant in the cistern, is not only difficult to remove after calving, but it also means that the teat is not effectively sealed. I advise only removing the short end of the teat sealant nozzle to help minimize any potential damage to the teat canal.   

After the infusion is completed. Post teat dip should be applied, and cows left to stand for 30 minutes before being put back in housing. 

In summary, teat sealants are of benefit to all cows at dry off. Many studies have found that the use of teat sealants has reduced the rate of new infections during the dry period, with an average reduction of clinical mastitis of between 25-30%. Most cows with a cell count below 200,000/ml throughout their lactation are free of infection in their udder.  They will not benefit from antibiotic treatment, by removing the good bacteria in their udder you make them more susceptible to mastitis in the following lactation. Good cow selection and excellent dry off technique will result in the best outcome.   

If you want to review your drying off technique, lower your bulk cell count or review your mastitis incidence, we can do this using a funded AHWP visit.   I have completed the AHDB Mastitis Control Plan, a proven structured, evidence-based approach to mastitis prevention and control, I’d enjoy working with you to improve in any of the areas discussed above 


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