This year more than ever, I hear dairy farmers telling me that they are going to milk through the winter.

The reason? To capitalise on the high milk price.

Now, there are two ways of looking at the impact of prices. One is that because prices are higher this year, farmers will make more money, so you could argue that they could dry off earlier than normal.

The other side of that coin is that there could be more money to be made by milking on for longer. It all depends on the farm situation - those with high debt levels or big repayments, or those who are looking to put a pot of money away, will have different objectives.

One thing that could be an issue for those looking to continue milking for longer this season is what impact it will have on cow health.

You cannot burn a candle at both ends and you cannot milk a cow for too long. In general, mature cows will need a minimum of eight weeks dry, while first lactation cows will need 10 to 12 weeks dry.

Best policy is to look through breeding records and pick out first lactation cows that are due to calve in February and put these on the list for drying off this week or into next week.

Drying off

These first lactation cows are still growing and need more time to recover from lactation compared to a mature cow.

These young cows will be the ones under the most pressure within a herd, so giving them a long, dry period will allow them to recover from their first lactation and prepare for their next, vis-a-vis building up body condition score.

There are ancillary benefits for the rest of the herd, because these younger animals are usually the lowest yielders, so it doesn’t make sense to be feeding them grass or high-quality silage and meal. By drying them off, you are leaving more feed available to the higher-yielding cows.

This will help the lactose percentage in the milk also. It should not drop below 4.3% and if it is close to this, drying off the low yielders will help to bring it up.

Other animals that should be considered for early dry off include any lame, thin or low-yielding cows. Lame cows should be hoof-pared to cure the cause of the lameness and a long dry period will help them to regain any lost body condition score.


Hygiene after drying off is critical to prevent new infections from developing. In an ideal world, recently dried off cows would be kept outside in a bare paddock until their udders involute, but that is not very practical after all the rain of the last few days.

If housed on cubicles, keep the beds cleaned down and disinfect with lime or equivalent.