Transition Cow Management Holds the Key to a Successful Lactation

Help prevent health issues and enhance productivity in your herd

“There’s a lot that can go wrong during the transition phase,” said Dr. Mark van der List, senior professional services veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim. “Their body undergoes many metabolic changes. It’s a high-risk period for dairy cows.” Diligent management techniques, proper nutrition and monitoring can help mitigate potential problems. Cows that undergo a successful transition may experience higher milk production, a reduction in post-calving disorders and improved reproductive performance.1

 

Consider including the following protocols on your operation for a successful transition period:

Three Weeks Prior to Calving

The close-up dry cow diet should be well-formulated and include quality feed ingredients. “Dry cows need a sufficient amount of protein, vitamins and minerals in their diet to meet energy requirements without increasing their body condition score,” Dr. van der List stated. “Over-conditioned cows are more likely to develop metabolic problems.”

“We also want to supplement dry cows with anionic salts, creating a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diet,” he added. “This can help maintain blood calcium levels after freshening, which are tied to a cow’s future milk production and post-calving health.” Producers can ensure their DCAD diet is balanced correctly by monitoring urine pH.2 “It’s important to make sure the DCAD diet is still palatable for cows,” Dr. van der List continued. “We don’t want to be losing body condition, either.”

 

Close-up dry cows need plenty of space to rest. “Monitoring stocking density in the dry cow area is essential,” emphasized Dr. van der List. “Overcrowding puts additional stress on the already vulnerable cow.” Other ways to avoid stress include minimizing pen movements and keeping cows cool with fans and sprinklers in warmer temperatures.2

At Calving

“We want the calving area to be clean with good facilities if intervention is required,” said Dr. van der List. “The goal is to have calm, injury-free calving.” The person in charge of the calving pen should be well-trained, able to recognize the signs of calving, and know when to intervene.3

Three Weeks Post Calving

“The first few days after calving are really about calcium control,” remarked Dr. van der List. “We want to make sure these animals aren’t dealing with subclinical hypocalcemia [SCH]. I’d recommend supplementing all second- and greater-lactation cows with an oral calcium supplement, in which they get one bolus at calving and one bolus the day after calving. If we can control calcium levels, we can head off a lot of other problems.”

Dr. van der List recommends consulting with your veterinarian to get a better idea of SCH prevalence in your herd. “A veterinarian can help retrieve blood samples of recently fresh cows to determine blood calcium concentrations,” he noted. These test results can be used to build and execute an economically viable control strategy for SCH.

A fresh cow diet should encourage dry-matter intake by offering high-quality forage and making feed accessible at all times. This will help ease the negative energy balance the fresh cow is facing.4

If possible, put fresh cows in a separate pen. Stocking rate is important, as you do not want cows competing for bunk access.1 “Mixing already at-risk fresh cows in a sick pen isn’t ideal, either,” said Dr. van der List. “A fresh cow’s immune system might already be compromised, making them more susceptible to the diseases found in the sick pen.”

A separate pen also allows for closer monitoring. “Producers should be checking fresh cows at least twice a day, observing the front and back ends of the cow,” he said. When looking at the front of the cow, observe the ears, eyes, nasal discharge and attitude. When looking at the hind end of the cow, check for uterine discharge, udder and rumen fill, manure consistency, and hoof and leg health.1 “Record any instances of treatment,” Dr. van der List concluded. “This will help producers track performance and identify areas that may need improvement.”

Dr. van der List encourages working with a veterinarian to develop and implement a comprehensive transition cow program suited for your operation.