A dry period of 6–8 weeks for dairy cows is generally thought to maximise milk production in the next lactation. However, the value of such a long dry period is increasingly questioned. In particular, shortening the dry period shifts milk production from the critical period after calving to the weeks before calving. This shift in milk production could improve the energy balance (EB), health and fertility of dairy cows. The objective of this study was to systematically review the current knowledge on dry period length in relation to milk production, EB, fertility, and health of cows and calves. A meta-analysis was performed for variables where at least five studies were available. Overall, both shortening and omitting the dry period reduces milk production, increases milk protein percentage and tends to reduce the risk of ketosis in the next lactation. Individual studies reported an improvement of EB after a short or no dry period, compared with a conventional dry period. Shortening or omitting the dry period did not affect milk fat percentage and shortening the dry period did not alter the odds ratio for mastitis, metritis, or fertility measures in the next lactation. So, current evidence for an improvement of health and fertility of dairy cows is marginal and may be partly explained by the limited number of studies which have evaluated health and fertility in relation to dry period length, the limited number of animals in those studies and the variable responses reported.