Dry Cow Management

Consistency is key to ensuring cows are happy, fertile and productive.

A consistently boring life is the key to ensuring cows are happy and fertile and able to hit their maximum production potential, according to the team at Mole Valley Farmers’ Focus Farm in Wiltshire.

Management at and immediately after calving is seen as one of the most important times when it comes to getting cows on track to hit yields of upwards of 11,000 litres per cow per year.

“If they leave the dry cow shed happy and every day there after is the same and boring, she’ll get in-calf and her body condition will stay the same. Boringly consistent is what we’re after,” says Farm Manager at Stowell Farms, Neil Ridgway, who stresses that every stage of the production cycle is critical for success.

“When you’re reaching for the targets we are, it’s a thousand piece jigsaw. But with one piece not in the right place you can end up with sick cows and LDAs. Nine out of ten times it comes back to the cow not being managed properly,” he says.

Body condition

For Neil and Herd Manager Chris Gowen, body condition score management is a crucial part of that jigsaw. When the herd was milked twice a day and fed the same TMR, late lactation cows had a tendency to put on condition.

“The dry cow shed is the most important shed, but there’s no point forgetting the late lactation cows. If they come in fat, it’s more expensive.” Neil explains. That’s due to over weight cows being at heightened risk of excessive weight loss in early lactation, leading to ketosis, as well as suboptimal fertility and calving difficulties.

A change in management, along with a shift to robotic milking has meant cows now have an even body condition at every stage of the production cycle. The robots help with that, allowing cows to be treated and fed as individuals. That means they receive the right amount of concentrate through the robot according to their level of production so they don’t put on or lose excessive condition. They are also regularly weighed through the robots.


Any individuals losing weight very quickly at the start of lactation will be flagged on the system’s Health Report so she can be fed more. The robots also analyse milk fat and protein ratio to establish ketosis risk, allowing early signs to be identified and addressed before they escalate. The robots will then automatically feed more of Mole Valley Farmers’ AppleBoost MPG, which is a blend of glycerine and monopropylene glycol, infused with a fresh apple flavour to drive intakes. Every cow receives AppleBoost MPG in the transition ration and through the robot for the first three weeks post-calving to reduce ketosis risk. This supports the liver to produce essential glucose for milk production. Very high risk cows, such as fat, old or twin carrying individuals, will also receive a targeted Kexxtone bolus to further prevent ketosis.

Cow environment

Cow comfort and consistency are focused on at every stage, but no more so than in the dry period. “There are no dead ends so socially the cows and heifers have time to adjust without getting injured or bullied,” Chris explains.

Feed is pushed up regularly, fans are used to reduce heat stress and emphasis is placed on delivering a consistent diet, aided by Sustainability Manager for Mole Valley Farmers, Dr Matt Witt.

Cows are put on a transition diet three weeks before calving. This includes rye wholecrop silage, straw, water, AppleBoost MPG and 3kg per head per day of Translink 3000 which includes choline, yeasts, anionic salts and minerals. “The ration is balanced to lower milk fever risk, condition the rumen and maximise fresh intakes, whilst supporting liver function. The right level of protein also helps colostrum quality,” Matt explains.

Neil says the Translink 3000 helps with ration consistency as one roll can be fed that includes all of the essential supplements. “If you were to feed every single item in there separately, you’d have tonnes of stock that you’d be relying on a tractor driver to load correctly. With Translink it’s all in one nut.”

Cows calve in dedicated, immaculate calving pens with soft, rubber mattress flooring and are given a fresh cow drink immediately upon calving. Individuals of two lactations or more also receive calcium boluses to help prevent milk fever. They then move into a low stocked fresh cow group.

Find out more about what’s been happening on the farm 

The Numbers

2 feed spaces per cow in the transition group. 

<1% cases of milk fever from 560 calvings.

5% retained foetal membranes.

43 litres – average peak yields at around 35 days in milk.

Stowell Farms – dairy system overview

Stowell Farms, Pewsey, Wiltshire.

12 Lely A5 Astronaut milking robots.

680 Holsteins in herd.

11,050 litres a cow a year.

3.4 average daily visits to the robot.

2,600 litres milk from forage.

23.2 months average age at first calving.