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Cow udder
Cow udder

Dry off Period in Dairy Livestock: The Key to Successful Breeding Logo Natual

For livestock animals, the dry period represents a time of rest, essential to the success of upcoming lactation and further reproduction performances. Cows, pigs, goats and sheep’ status changes are greatly influenced by interrelated hormonal mechanisms. After dairy females are dried off, it is worth sustaining the hormonal processes they undergo in order to reduce skin inflammations and prolong their udder’s rest period. When dry-off is over, reproduction functions can be reactivated and optimised promptly by applying our methods. However, livestock species have different needs, the dry period therefore requires an appropriate follow-up which is often species-dependent.

Dry-off is a transitional phase between milk production and the actual "dry" period. This transition in physiological status is in fact triggered by a deep hormonal change.

The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are major actors of breeding processes

At the reproduction level, mammals’ hormonal changes originate from two glands located in the brain: the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland (or hypophysis). The hypothalamus controls the central nervous system as it concentrates all external stimuli (light, nerve impulses, tactile stimulation ...). Depending on the stimuli received, it produces neuro-hormones such as oxytocin and GnRH (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone). These have the effect of activating the neighboring gland: the pituitary gland. The latter then secretes new hormones that will impact the various target organs.

Lactation and reproduction closely depend on each other

Sexual maturity and lactation are key examples of the way hormonal mechanisms work in reproduction. When sexual maturity comes, the levels of blood hormones, photoperiodism and group behaviour begin to modulate hypothalamus activity - this gland produces GnRH. GnRH triggers the production of FSH (follicle) and LH (luteinising hormone) to prompt the sexual and œstrus cycles. During lactation, teat suction causes the hypothalamus to release oxytocin. Oxytocin stimulates the release of prolactin from the pituitary gland; the pituitary gland then spurs the udder’s lactocytes to secrete milk.
Reproduction and milk production are interrelated as the same hormones govern these two functions. Reproduction and milk production indeed often complement or oppose each other. For instance, farrowing is essential for the reproduction process; it also acts as the precursor of lactation. Conversely, lactation can hinder the beginning of reproduction in some species. Therefore the dry-off period must be managed differently depending on the species considered.

A strategic dry-off program for cows

An appropriate dry-off program in dairy cows aims to maintain their udder health and to keep their reproductive capacities alert. The dry period also marks the end of gestation and preparation for calving, thereby laying the ground for the upcoming reproduction phase. These two objectives are closely correlated with a good functioning of the hypothalamus and of the pituitary gland. In light of these factors, it is strongly recommended that milk secretions be stopped right on the first day of the dry period. What is the reason for this abrupt change? The goal is in fact to limit the risk of suspensory ligament breaks as these could cause udder detachment. Then, the udder defenses mechanisms must be instantly deployed: keratine plug, a decrease of udder volume, and immune defenses. The two months prior to calving are of crucial importance. This is a key period for ensuring the offspring’s proper development (calving tone, hypocalcemia, milk fever) and the maturation of follicles that are to interfere after calving, during the following reproduction phase.

A drastic dry-off in dairy ewes

Unlike dairy cows, the dry-off period in dairy ewes starts as they are gaining the required conditions for breeding. This is a sensitive stage, so any factors likely to induce lactation should be carefully contained. This means that a radical change must be implemented in rearing management by a set of drastic measures: isolation from the milking room, adjustment of the diet, etc… The ultimate goal is to trigger a stress response that will prompt ewes’ physiologic changes.

A short dry-off program for sows

In the case of sows, sexual hormones are directly inhibited by lactating hormones. Sows come into heat between 4 to 8 days after weaning. The longer the gap between weaning and the beginning of sows’ œstrus, the poorer their ensuing breeding performance. This can result in an untimely œstrus start, a lower success rate at birth and a lower prolificacy. Sows’ weaning period should not last too long so they can promptly come into œstrus and keep their teats functional. Specific actions must applied to fulfill this objective: reduction of the daily diet, piglets allotment, boar presentation...

Whatever the species, a successful dry-off program is crucial to the female upcoming reproductive performance. The organs involved in this process must be sustained by appropriate nutritional supplies so they can remain productive and keep their hormonal responsiveness. The Techna group specialists are here to assist in choosing the products that best meet your rearing needs. Please do not hesitate to consult them!

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