A big change in herd management for Colin Murdoch meant that a well-planned dry cow protocol had to ensure his new herd of Glencairn Jerseys hit the ground running with easy calvings and had an impressive start to their lactations.

Colin, from Bunton Hill Farm, in Ayrshire, decided to change from an all-year-round calving Holstein herd to a block-calving Jersey herd, that would eventually move to all-year calving. October, 2019, saw the first heifers arrive from Denmark.

This first delivery brought with it excitement for the future, but also a responsibility to get things right first time. Thanks to a milk contract from Graham’s The Family Dairy, work was needed to fulfil it and at the correct composition, so there was a huge amount of pressure to make things work in this first year.

“We just couldn’t afford for it to go wrong; we’d made a huge investment in the transition to the Jersey breed,” said Colin.

Interestingly, it was the transition period that Colin focused on with ruminant specialist, Sean Kennedy, of Advanced Nutrition. In order to make the herd's own transition smooth they looked at this, the most stressful period in their cows’ lives, with the aim of making this as stress free as possible.

They used findings from the previous Holstein herd to formulate a dry cow protocol, ensuring hassle-free calving and enough energy to start a successful lactation.

It’s well documented that the dry period is such a critical time to get the feeding and environment right as this can really impact on the cow’s health and future productivity, pointed out Colin. "It’s essential to give the cow the right start. This is even more crucial for Jersey cows, known to be more susceptible to milk fever and transition disorders such as retained cleansings and ketosis."

Added to this, Colin had the pressure of buying heifers from herds in a different country, as well as going from an all-round calving herd to these first heifers block calving.

Sean from Advanced Nutrition said: “With so many calvings happening at the same time we needed to maximise intakes but we also just needed to get the system right. If things go wrong in the transition period you end up fire fighting, so we made sure that we were pro-active rather than re-active.”

One thing they had learnt with the Holsteins was getting the diet right. For the past 18 months they had used X-Zelit in a mineralised nut – DC X-Zel. “Having X-Zelit in a nut, we relaxed knowing the cows were getting everything they needed and intakes are far better,” said Colin.

This is a dry cow product that worked by stimulating the cow’s own hormonal system to create a perfect calcium balance at calving. It’s scientifically proven to produce a dramatic drop in levels of clinical and sub-clinical milk fever, increased health, fertility and post calving energy.

The mineralised nut offered Colin peace of mind through the dry period, he said, and it had worked to reduce metabolic disorders and calving was easy. So, he also fed it to the close up Jerseys – it offered them a safety net when there was huge pressure for the cows to calve down well and have the energy to get going and produce at the start of the lactation.

The results speak for themselves too and out of the 200 heifers that arrived, 175 have calved with 25 to go.

Colin said: “We were nervous of calving Jerseys through the winter but there hasn’t been any issues at all. Not only have the cows started off producing 26-28 litres per cow per day, the calves are also much fitter and growth rates have been great.”

He added: “Mineralised nut has enabled us to get the heifers through their first lactation and to set their calves up for future health too. Once you start feeding it, it’s an area you just don’t have to worry about, it gives you the time to solve other problems on the farm!”

The dry cow protocols:

Dry cow diet

In the last three weeks before calving, the transition diet consists of silage, chopped haylage, chopped straw, barley, with the last two weeks with the addition of DC-Xcel. They are fed once a day and the silage is pushed up three times a day to maximise intakes.

Ration presentation

The change to a tub feeder wagon ensured a more consistent diet that incorporates large amounts of well chopped straw. This gives a high fibre and low energy diet, allowing for long periods of feeding without the cow being capable of increasing her bodyweight.

Maintaining body condition for the whole eight weeks is important to good liver function and immune suppression. From the large straw inclusion rumen motility is maintained and therefore high intakes are maintained.

Cow comfort

Cows in the dry period need space to help reduce stress and areas available for different groups. This was one of the main reasons for changing to a Jersey herd. There were issues with stocking densities for the Holsteins, whereas the building and environment are now better suited to help the size and frame of the Jersey compared to the Holstein.


The team looked to minimise group changes, ideally just one change at 15 days from calving, allowing the diet to have the DC-Xcel top dressed till point of calving. This nut holds DMI up as the cows would naturally begin to fall, therefore maintaining energy input the same as day one at drying off!