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Start of a project on optimal dry period strategy for dairy cattle

Gepubliceerd op
5 juni 2014

Researchers of Wageningen University and Research Centre and Utrecht University started a project on optimizing dry period management of dairy cows. The objectives of this study, entitled ‘Customised Dry Period’, are to optimize dry period length for cows and to develop a dry period length decision-support tool for the Dutch dairy sector.

‘Customised Dry Period’ is the continuation of the ‘WHY DRY’ project. The latter project will be completed this summer. ‘WHY DRY’ studied the effects of dry period length (0, 30 or 60 days) on milk production, energy balance, cow health, fertility, calf growth and net herd results. Preliminary results of ‘WHYDRY’ show that shortening the dry period can be an interesting approach for specific cows and farms. ‘Customised Dry Period’ focuses on optimal application of a shortened dry period strategy and studies the consequences for the individual cow (ration, health and welfare), farm (profitability) and dairy chain (environment, antibiotic use). Two PhD candidates started within ‘Customised Dry Period’ with a first experiment at Dairy Campus in Lelystad. Renny van Hoeij focuses on ration optimization and effects on energy balance, lactation persistency and cow health. Akke Kok will assess the effect of shortening the dry period on economic viability, environmental impacts and cow welfare.

Shift in energy requirement

In the dairy cattle sector, a 6 to 8 week dry period is generally considered as an optimal length that best maintains the balance between lost milk production during the dry period and high production levels achieved in the subsequent lactation. The early lactation period, however, is also known for high disease incidence. This high disease incidence is mainly attributed to the negative energy balance and is related to high culling rates and antibiotic use. Results of ’WHY DRY’ show that shortening or omitting the dry period, shifts milk production from this critical period after calving to the period before calving when the cow can meet her energy requirements. This results in a substantial improvement of the energy balance in early lactation, but also reduces milk yield. The reduction in milk yield varies significantly between cows and farms. The expectation of researchers within ‘Customised Dry Period’ is that production losses resulting from a shortened dry period strategy can be minimized by ration adjustments and an individual cow approach. This includes an individual cow approach for the use of antibiotics within the dry period. Ultimately, the decision to shorten the dry period will depend on economic and environmental consequences, which will be evaluated within this project. ‘Customised Dry Period’ will support cow-specific dry period strategies with a decision-support tool, executed in a mobile app. This app will be available for Dutch dairy farmers. Consequently, ‘Customised Dry Period’ will contribute to improvement of cow health and welfare, reduction in antibiotic use and environmental impacts and improvement of net herd results.

Network of dairy farmers

‘Customised Dry Period’ is part of the ‘Publiek-Private-Samenwerking Duurzame Zuivelketen’, and is financed by the Dutch Dairy Board and Ministry of Economic Affairs. In addition to ‘Customised Dry Period’ a network of dairy farmers will be organised to exchange information concerning practical experiences and experimental results. Dairy farmers interested in shortening the dry period can sign up for this network by contacting Ariette van Knegsel (project leader; ariette.vanknegsel@wur.nl).