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J Dairy Sci. 2003 Oct;86(10):3027-37.

Invited review: bovine studies on optimal lengths of dry periods.

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Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611, USA.


Milk production per cow has increased as a result of progressive changes in the genetics and management of the dairy animal population. A management constant during many decades of progress has been the widely adopted dry period length of 51 to 60 d. The scientific basis for that industry standard was examined to assess its validity as the appropriate standard for the modern dairy industry. If subsequent milk yields can be sustained fully after dry periods that are shorter than the current standard, then considerable milk is being forfeited by retaining longer dry periods. Conversely, failure to allow any dry period will result in a significant decrease in subsequent milk synthesis and secretion. Most studies to determine the minimum length of dry period required have involved retrospective analyses of observational data. Only five experiments have been reported in which dairy cows were assigned, at random, to planned 30- and 60-d dry periods. Estimates of the change in subsequent milk production when days dry were decreased from 50 to 57 d to 30 to 34 d ranged from a 10% decrease to a 1% increase. However, lower yields after shorter dry periods may be partially offset by greater milk yields in the previous lactation if such cows are milked 3 to 4 wk longer. Environmental factors that influence milk production as well as the biological processes that occur within the mammary gland during the nonlactating period must be considered when dry period lengths are compared. Importantly, additional animal trials that specifically assign cows randomly to the dry period lengths to be evaluated are needed to determine optimal dry period lengths for modern dairy cows in differing management scenarios.

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