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Caring for and Managing Dry Cows

[fusion_builder_container type=”flex” hundred_percent=”no” hundred_percent_height=”no” hundred_percent_height_scroll=”no” align_content=”stretch” flex_align_items=”flex-start” flex_justify_content=”flex-start” hundred_percent_height_center_content=”yes” equal_height_columns=”no” container_tag=”div” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” status=”published” spacing_medium=”” spacing_small=”” padding_dimensions_medium=”” padding_dimensions_small=”” border_sizes=”” border_style=”solid” box_shadow=”no” box_shadow_blur=”0″ box_shadow_spread=”0″ gradient_start_color=”” gradient_end_color=”” gradient_start_position=”0″ gradient_end_position=”100″ gradient_type=”linear” radial_direction=”center center” linear_angle=”180″ background_position=”center center” background_repeat=”no-repeat” fade=”no” background_parallax=”none” enable_mobile=”no” parallax_speed=”0.3″ background_blend_mode=”none” video_aspect_ratio=”16:9″ video_loop=”yes” video_mute=”yes” render_logics=”” absolute=”off” absolute_devices=”small,medium,large” sticky=”off” sticky_devices=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” sticky_transition_offset=”0″ scroll_offset=”0″ animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ filter_hue=”0″ filter_saturation=”100″ filter_brightness=”100″ filter_contrast=”100″ filter_invert=”0″ filter_sepia=”0″ filter_opacity=”100″ filter_blur=”0″ filter_hue_hover=”0″ filter_saturation_hover=”100″ filter_brightness_hover=”100″ filter_contrast_hover=”100″ filter_invert_hover=”0″ filter_sepia_hover=”0″ filter_opacity_hover=”100″ filter_blur_hover=”0″][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ align_self=”auto” content_layout=”column” align_content=”flex-start” valign_content=”flex-start” content_wrap=”wrap” center_content=”no” column_tag=”div” target=”_self” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” sticky_display=”normal,sticky” type_medium=”” type_small=”” type=”1_1″ order_medium=”0″ order_small=”0″ dimension_spacing_medium=”” dimension_spacing_small=”” dimension_spacing=”” dimension_margin_medium=”” dimension_margin_small=”” dimension_margin=”” padding_medium=”” padding_small=”” padding=”” hover_type=”none” border_sizes=”” border_style=”solid” border_radius=”” box_shadow=”no” dimension_box_shadow=”” box_shadow_blur=”0″ box_shadow_spread=”0″ background_type=”single” gradient_start_color=”” gradient_end_color=”” gradient_start_position=”0″ gradient_end_position=”100″ gradient_type=”linear” radial_direction=”center center” linear_angle=”180″ lazy_load=”avada” background_position=”left top” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_blend_mode=”none” render_logics=”” filter_type=”regular” filter_hue=”0″ filter_saturation=”100″ filter_brightness=”100″ filter_contrast=”100″ filter_invert=”0″ filter_sepia=”0″ filter_opacity=”100″ filter_blur=”0″ filter_hue_hover=”0″ filter_saturation_hover=”100″ filter_brightness_hover=”100″ filter_contrast_hover=”100″ filter_invert_hover=”0″ filter_sepia_hover=”0″ filter_opacity_hover=”100″ filter_blur_hover=”0″ animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ min_height=”” last=”no” link=”” border_position=”all”][fusion_text columns=”” rule_size=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” sticky_display=”normal,sticky” text_color=”#000000″]A dry cow refers to one which is not producing milk. Usually, farmers get milk from a cow for about 305 days. This is the average lactation length, after which the cow remains for about 60 days in dry condition, i.e. not secreting milk or being milked. This is called a dry period and is very critical for in it, she is able to regenerate her udder and reserve nutrients for the next lactation, otherwise, the production of milk will not be up to the mark while also the cow may suffer from several metabolic diseases after parturition. A dry cow is just as valuable as a lactating cow, therefore should be not neglected. The dry cow management program includes nutrition, general management, and health control program.[/fusion_text][fusion_text animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” sticky_display=”normal,sticky” text_color=”#000000″]

Good management of the dry cow is important, and its aim is to:

  1. Provide for the involution and regeneration of milk secretory tissue of the udder
  2. Enhance milk production in the subsequent lactation (milking period)
  3. Allow for and increase production of colostrum. The transfer of immunoglobulins from cow’s blood to milk starts about one month before calving and reaches its peak just before parturition.
  4. Develop optimum body reserve to withstand the strain of calving
  5. Supply sufficient nutrition for the growing fetus, since maximum growth occurs during the last trimester of pregnancy
  6. Prevent nutritional deficiency diseases like milk fever etc. after calving
  7. Allow the cow to prepare for the next lactation

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It is worth noting that the period around calving represents the time of the greatest risk in the cow’s life. Therefore, adequate preparation and outstanding care are key factors if this transition is to take place without problems. Investing in optimal dry cow management will be repaid with fewer problems in the following lactation, and a higher milk yield.


Factors Influencing Milk Yield in Cattle

Milk yield varies from cow to cow, or farm to farm. There is a multiplicity of factors that may work individually or synergistic to others to influence the volume of milk produced. Some cows produce small, others average while other very high volume. Milk yield like other performances of the cow are influenced by factors which may be environmental, managerial or cow factors. In this post, we discuss the various influences to milk yield, and possibly show you what things to consider in your choice of or management of dairy cows.

1. Breed

The milk yield varies from breed to breed. Exotic cattle breeds like the Holstein/Friesian cows produces is greatly more than the quantity of milk indigenous cattle like the White Fulani cows produces. This is one of the most important factors that affect milk yield. Animals belonging to dairy breeds produce more milk compared to dual purpose breed.

2. Individualism of the cow

Individual cows within breeds produce varying quantities of milk influenced by their peculiarlity. Generally, animals with a huge body built produce more milk than smaller ones. Cows normally will not secrete more milk daily than the equivalent of 8-10 percent of their body weight.

3. Stage and Persistency of Lactation

Different cows take varying times to reach peak milk production. Persistence refers to how long the cow maintains almost constant yield following peak in production. There is considerable variation in the persistence of milk secretion following peak production within 2 months after lactation. Some cows are very persistent and their rate of milk secretion declines slowly (6-8 percent of their previous month). The production of other cows may decline very rapidly (8-l2 percent) so that they show poor persistence.

4. Frequency of Milking

As milk accumulates in the lumen of the alveoli and fills the storage areas of the udder, pressure develops inside those areas. This tends gradually to inhibit further milk secretion. The more frequent removal of milk permits maximum intensity of the milk manufacturing process. Therefore, frequent evacuation of the udder is essential for maximum milk production. It has been shown that milking cows three times a day increases milk production 10-25 percent over two-times daily milking. Milking four times a day instead of three results is another 5-15 percent increase in production.

5. Stage in Gestation

During the first 5 months of pregnancy, the decline in milk yield in pregnant cows is similar to the equivalent lactation period in non-pregnant cows. However, following the fifth month of pregnancy, cows begin to decline more rapidly in milk yield.

The average gestation period of dairy cows is 283 days. The aim is to have each cow mated about 85 days after calving. If mated earlier than 85 days, the total yield for the lactation is reduced as in this case after about 20th week of pregnancy milk yield will start falling more rapidly.

A significant reduction of milk yield occurs towards the end of pregnancy. Although the exact reason is not yet known but according to one hypothesis it has been suggested that level of nutrient required for foetal development are highest; however, this appears to be only 1-2 percent of the daily requirement of the cow. Another convincing explanation is that of a change in hormone production, in which large amounts of estrogen and progesterone are released into the bloodstream, which is detrimental to high milk yield. During fourth to fifth months of gestation, there is an increase of SNF (Solid Non-Fat).

6. Age of the Cow

It is believed that there is a slight additional growth of secreting cells of dairy cattle during each pregnancy until cows reach about 7 years of age. This is manifested by- the increase in yearly milk. However, milk production also rescinds in older cows as other factors related to age set in.

7. Dry period

Cows are normally bred 70 to 90 days (average of 85 days) after parturition. It is expected that they will lactate about 305 days and then be given a 60-day dry period before the next calving.

The dry period is important for replenishing body supplies including regeneration of secretory tissue. Allowing dairy cows a dry period has been shown to result in significantly higher production during the succeeding lactation.

8. Temperature and Humidity

Severe weather conditions drastically affect milk production. Temperatures between 10-22°C have no effect on the milk production. In this range (Comfort Zone), no body processes are directly involved in maintaining body temperature. At a very high temperature, feed consumption is greatly reduced, there is an increase in water intake, an increase in body temperature and respiration resulting in a decrease in milk yield with lowered milk fat, SNF and total solids. High relative humidity accentuates the problem of high temperatures.

9. Feed

The speed of synthesis and diffusion of various milk constituents is dependent on the concentration of milk precursors in blood, which reflects the quality and quantity of the food supply. Nature provides for maintenance, growth, and reproductive needs before energy that is made available for lactation.

Inadequate feed nutrients probably limit the secretion of milk more than any other single factor in a dairy cow. Although good nutrition alone cannot guarantee high milk production, poor nutrition can prevent attainment, of a cow’s full potential just as surely as poor management, low genetic potential in an unfavorable environment. The maintenance of lactation (galactopoiesis) is closely related to an adequate feed intake by the lactating animal.

10. Stress

Recently, more attention has been focused on the role of stress in the secretion of milk. As animals are selected to secrete higher levels of milk, any sort of stress will play an increasingly important role in lactation.

11. Milking Process

The amount of milk drawn from a cow is definitely influenced by the change of milker. Due to change of milker, the slight variation in milking process upsets the cow and thereby affects milk yield.

12. Disease

Diseases may significantly reduce the amount of milk secreted. Disease may affect heart rate, and therefore, the rate of blood circulation through the mammary gland, which influences milk secretion is also affected.


It is expected that as you read through the post you were able to pick up certain factors that you would use while choosing a dairy cow. We expect that you greatly benefit from this write up, by pick up the things that you as the farmer can influence to ensure that your cows produce higher volumes of milk, which in turn means more sales and increased income – Money for the Farmer!


Also known as choke or ruminal tympany, bloat refers to gas distension of the fore-stomachs (rumen and reticulum) of the cow. This condition is a very common encounter among herds in Kenya and occurs in two forms, either in the form of a persistent foam mixed with the ruminal contents called primary or frothy bloat, or in the form of free-gas separated from the ingesta called secondary or free-gas bloat.

Primary/frothy bloat

This form of bload is caused by the entrapment of the normal gases of fermentation in a stable foam. The coalescence of the small gas bubbles trapped in the igesta is inhibited and the pressure in the rumen increases because eructation does not occur. Certain plant substances such as Alfafa hay, legumes or vegetables (such as kale & turnips), and finely ground grain, have been shown to be primary foaming agents and initiate the process.

This kind of bloat is most common in animals grazing legume or legume-dominant pastures and it occurs when cattle are placed on lush pastures, particularly those dominated by rapidly growing leguminous plants in the vegetative and early bud stages, but can also be seen when high-quality hay is fed.

Free-gas/ Secondary bloat

This form of bload results from physical obstruction to eructation occuring from the esophageal region. Obstruction may be caused by a foreign body (eg, potatoe, avocado seed etc.), stenosis or pressure from an enlargement outside pressing on the oesophagus such as from tuberculous, lymphadenitis or bovine viral leukosis.

Other causes of free-gas bloat include: Obstruction of the cardia, interference with nerve functions/pathways involved in the eructation reflex such as vagus nerve, diaphragmatic hernia.

However, chronic ruminal tympany is relatively frequent in calves up to 6 months old without apparent cause; this form usually resolves on it’s own.

Signs of bloat

The following findings are seen on bloated cows:

Primary bloat

  1. Depressed milk yield
  2. Sudden distension of rumen
  3. Distension of left paralumbar fossa and abdomen
  4. Discomfort and animal may lie or stand frequently
  5. Belly kicking and rolling
  6. Frequent urination and defecation
  7. Protrusion of tongue and mouth breathing
  8. Vomiting may occur
  9. Dyspnea and grunting
  10. Respiration rate increases up to 60/min
  11. Rumen movements decrease and stops in severe cases
  12. If severity continues, animal collapses and dies

Secondary bloat

  1. Increased frequency and strength of rumination
  2. Tympanic resonance
  3. Distension of rumen and left paralumbar fossa.


  • Avoid feeding or grazing high-risk plants such as legumes or clovers. If feeding is necessary, ensure a slow transition and always ill cattle with a high dry matter feed such as straw prior to grazing. Do not overfeed inely ground grain or other highly fermentable carbohydrates.
  • Continually administer an antifoaming agent during the risk period. This may be done by praying pastures with antifoaming agents – oils and fats or by adding antifoaming agent in feed or water.
  • Avoid feeding apples, potatoes, or feedstufs that can lodge in the esophagus and block eructation.
  • Prevent infections with bovine respiratory disease complex, bovine leukemia virus, and tuberculosis.

Milk Fever in the Dairy Cow

Also referred to as parturient paresis or hypocalcemia, milk fever is a common nutritional disorder generally affecting older, high producing cattle.

The demand for calcium in the body of a cow increases at the beginning of lactation, as large amounts of calcium are lost through milk and hence the need to replenish it. This may lead to a decrease in blood calcium levels if the cow is unable to replace the lost calcium fast enough, consequently leading to a disease called milk fever.

Most milk fever cases occur within 48 to 72 hours of calving when demand for calcium for milk production exceeds the body’s ability to mobilize calcium reserves. Fever is a misnomer as body temperature is usually below normal. Low blood calcium interferes with muscle function throughout the body causing general weakness, loss of appetite and eventually heart failure.

Signs seen in cows with milk fever

At first, the cow experiences muscle tremors, lack of appetite and unsteadiness. Eventually, the cow is unable to rise, body temperature falls, and constipation occurs. Cows go down to a sitting position often with a kink in the neck. Death may occur if the cow is not treated promptly.


The beginning of milk production causes a decline in the animal’s blood calcium levels. If the cow is unable to replenish this calcium quickly enough, milk fever occurs.

Some high producing multiparous (those which have calved before) cows will develop clinical hypocalcemia just prior to signs of parturition. This occurs when there has been changes within the dry cow ration.

Older cows are more susceptible as they produce more milk and are unable to replenish calcium quickly enough.


Managing the diet can be a valuable aid in preventing milk fever. The key to prevention is managing a dry cow nearing parturition, which should be kept on a low calcium diet. Such a diet stimulates the calcium regulatory system to keep the blood levels normal by mobilizing the body stores from the bone. Lucerne, a feed high in calcium and potassium, should thus not be a major ingredient in close-up dry cow diets to avoid too high calcium levels before calving.

When the demand for calcium increases at calving, calcium can be mobilized much more rapidly thus preventing milk fever. In early lactation, high-yielding cows should receive as much calcium as possible. High-risk cows can be injected with vitamin D3 2–8 days before calving.

Diets providing less than 15 g of calcium per day per cow and fed for at least 10 days before calving will reduce the incidence of milk fever.

Feeding Options For the Dairy Cow

The dairy industry in Kenya is the most developed of the livestock sub-sectors and is relatively well developed compared to other sub-Saharan countries. This industry is dominated by Small-scale farmers. Dairy utilizes pasture more efficiently than other ruminants for production of human food.

Despite the Kenya dairy industry being fairly advanced, average milk production is still below expectation. This is due to various challenges facing the industry. One of these challenges is the lack of adequate feed resources and where available, it is seasonal and quality is poor. This is also coupled with high cost of concentrates as a result of competition with the human population since these are derived from human food.

Many small-scale dairy farmers struggle to identify the correct feeds to give to their cows. Other potential investors in this business hold back from venturing into dairying because they lack ideas as to what feeds to use. This is despite the fact that many feed resources are naturally available and only little effort is needed to obtain them. In this post, we’re going to look at some of the local and readily available feeding options you can utilize to start or further develop your dairy business.

Forage Feeding

These are mainly green feeds such as Napier grass, Lucerne and sweet potato vines among others. All forages should be chopped and fed in feeding troughs to avoid feed wastage. Forage have a total crude fibre (CF) of more than18%. They have low nutrient density and usually have low digestibility except for the lush young forage. Crude protein in forages is variable with a range of 2-4% in straws to 20% in legumes such as lucerne. Mineral content (Ca, Mg, K high, P may be limited) also varies from good to poor.

Other forages include: oats, sugarcane, sorghum and brassicas.


Straw refers to the agricultural byproduct consisting of the dry stalks of cereal plants after the grain and chaff have been removed. These include materials such as wheat straw, rice straw and maize Stover. It is recommended that these are first soaked in water and molasses to soften them before being fed to cows. A cow should be given about 40-70 kg of straw daily.


Ration or better known as Total Mixed Ration or simply TMR refers to a feeding system in which weighing and blending all feedstuffs is done to come up with a complete ration with balanced and containing high nutrients. In this system cows are fed based on production for the milking herd and growth rate required for young stock, growth rate and fat deposition for the beef animals. It has several advantages over the adlib non planned feeding system; among these are:

  • Minimizes wastage, enhances voluntary feed intake,
  • All feeds roughage and concentrate are mixed together allowing no selection,
  • Feeding done with an aim of meeting specific needs,
  • Grain mixture can be liberally fed without fear of grain overload,
  • Its’ cheap in relation to feeding labour cost
  • It’s possible to estimate the feeds requirement etc.

Dairy cattle ration should contain 70% energy source, 30% protein source and required minerals.


Concentrates are rich in nutrients (energy and/or protein) and provide far more nutrients than an equivalent weight of roughage. They are low in fibre and usually have higher dry matter content. Their production entails processing of raw feed materials. Energy concentrates are prepared from materials such as Cereal grains and by-products such as maize, wheat, barley and cane molasses; Root crops, such as potato and cassava; and fats and oils. Protein concentrates are usually plant derived from soya residue, sunflower, cottonseed, groundnut and leguminous seeds. They can also be animal protein derived from fish, meat, blood, milk products and poultry waste.

Concentrates should always be given to lactating cows especially during milking. Dried off cows and heifers should be given concentrates beginning 2 months before calving.

To Better settle with the best feed for your dairy cow. Consider consulting your veterinarian. This will go far in ensuring the success of your dairy business.

Implications of Mastitis

Losses from Mastitis

Mastitis is the most important disease in dairy production systems. It affects the productivity of the cow, and the sequel is disastrous. There is increased milk loss.  Resulting from this infection, cows are unable to produce milk optimally as they would if healthy. They the become unable to feed and the feed conversion efficiency is lowered. This in turn leads to reduced milk production.

A lot of milk from infected cows is discarded. Most is abnormal milk that may have clots, bacteria and toxins, pus as well as drug residues following treatment. The milk is then aesthetically unfit for human consumption and could be harmful to health. Drug residues in milk could be cause for various allergies in humans; while antibiotic remnants could elicit antimicrobial resistance.

Farm owners incur high treatment costs in the management of mastitis in their dairy farms. These cost arise from paying veterinarians fees and in the purchase of drugs which are fairly expensive. Some treatments are particularly expensive because they require re-administration or be applied over long periods.

Mastitis and its treatment results to alteration and introduction of undesirable genetic material-from bacteria DNA. Further, bacteria produces toxins which may lead to septicemia and in turn lead to death of the animal as the infection worsens and the drugs fail. The farmer is then forced to cull some of the cows.

Reduced sale value of culls is seen as many buyers take them at throw-away prices. Sickly cows have reduced carcass weight due to the inability to feed and efficiently convert feed. Treatment for long periods of mastitis further complicates the situation. Many consumers are today unwilling to consume meat with drug residues. Commonly, such cows are sold for offal and skins.

Costs are further heightened while seeking for replacement heifers. In a bid to maintain the herd size and productivity following culling of sick animals, farmers must then dig deep into their pockets when they purchase replacement heifers.

Sick animals require increased attention and specialized care. They must be fed, treated, and monitored regularly during the day. This increases labor costs as the farmer spends more time that would be used in doing other important things, or resorts to hiring more manpower, which is expensive.

It is no doubt that mastitis leads to high economic losses, affecting the not so large income margin in dairy production. It then calls for more than just treatment. The focus of dairy cow owners must then shift to prevention of the development of mastitis in their herds. Here are few things that I recommend in order to achieve this.