Use Monitoring to Get Her Off to a Good Start
Cows that transition without clinical or subclinical disease, and that eat well, tend to produce more milk and stay in the herd longer. However, not all transitions are successful. Research shows that 35% of all dairy cows have at least one clinical disease event (metabolic or infectious), and approximately 60% have at least one subclinical disease event during the first 90 days in milk (LeBlanc et al., 2006; Ribeiro et al., 2013).
“The vast majority of the transition problems we face in commercial dairies are a consequence of poor dry-cow management, especially the ones happening within the first two weeks of lactation,” says Luciano Caixeta, assistant professor, Veterinary Population Medicine Department at the University of Minnesota. “When we see more metritis, more displaced abomasums, more mastitis; it is a consequence of something that happened in the past.” Looking back can help determine why, but improving transition cow success requires more than just looking back.
Establishing a monitoring program that is specific to your dairy can help identify the bottlenecks that exist and reduce disease incidence during the transition period, says Caixeta. Monitoring can be eyes on cows, technology such as rumination monitoring or a series of checklists; it can be whatever you are comfortable using. But you must use it. Collecting data without acting on it is a waste of time and money. Good monitoring programs enable you to be proactive instead of reactive.
Monitoring programs should be practical, useful and tailored to the general goals of the dairy. A good monitoring program allows you to: 1. Detect unintended disruptions in performance under current management conditions; 2. Measure the impact of an implemented intervention or management change; 3. Motivate management or employee behavioral change on the dairy; 4. Make sure that performance matches expectations.
When selecting monitors look for ones that: 1. Have a minimum delay between cause and effect (lag); 2. Do not mask recent changes when using historical data (momentum); 3. Detect differences across the population (variation); 4. Do not contain misleading information or bias (Fetrow et al., 2006b) and have the sensitivity and specificity to detect and identify the problem. A robust monitoring program requires a combination of monitors.
New technologies, such as rumination monitoring, have been used quite effectively by some dairies. But the technology is expensive and not a good fit for every dairy. Having eyes on transition cows every day can identify cows that struggle. No matter what form of monitoring system you prefer, “carefully monitoring the transition dairy cow while considering all factors affecting health and performance enables prompt intervention to address rising problems and enhances cow health, well-being and productivity in a timely manner,” says Caixeta.
Areas to Monitor
Let’s start with the dry cows. Follow best management practices backed by research. Control energy intake in far-off dry cows; minimize stress; avoid excessive weight change; provide clean and comfortable beds; use a DCAD diet to manage calcium homeostasis; and manage long-days dry closely. Low DCAD diets, when used to induce a mild metabolic acidosis, are very effective at reducing the incidence of clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia.
Avoid overcrowding in both dry and fresh-cows pens. Adhere to these guidelines for stocking density in 4-row barns: Far-off cows 100% (1 bed/cow); Close-up Holstein cows 80%; Close-up Jersey cows up to 100%; Fresh cows 80%. (In 6-row barns, stocking density will be less during these critical times as bunk space becomes the limiting factor.) Cows need access to fresh feed, clean water and clean and comfortable beds. Use heat abatement strategies and avoid prolonged standing times.
Caixeta recommends using the following monitors during the dry period.
- Check urine pH on a regular basis (weekly if possible). Goal average urine pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Keep track of pen counts to avoid overcrowding.
- Assess dry matter intake, feed delivery, particle length and consistency of the ration delivered.
- Monitor days dry.
- Provide cows with clean, comfortable, appropriately-sized beds.
Fresh-cow monitoring allows you to determine if cow performance matches expectations. This step is very useful to judge the return on investment of any additives or technologies used. If you try a new product to benefit transition cows, you must check if the expected benefit was received. If not, it may indicate an underlying management problem(s) is sabotaging cow performance, explains Caixeta. Recommended monitors for fresh cows include:
- Keep track of pen counts to avoid overcrowding.
- Assess DMI and consistency of feed delivery.
- Monitor days in the fresh pen.
- Make sure that cows have clean, comfortable and sanitary beds.
- Monitor and treat metabolic and infectious diseases.
- Record and investigate postpartum disease occurrence.
- Track changes in body condition score (goal ≤0.75 BCS).
- Keep lock-up times to under 45 minutes/day.
While some find monitoring peak milk helpful, this measure suffers from considerable lag time. Peak milk can help you identify which cows transitioned well and which did not. But it should not be used as a stand-alone trait to indicate problems. It is just one more indicator in your overall monitoring program. (For more details on recommended practices for transition cows, please see the chart below.)
The transition period is challenging for cows and producers. Good records, paying attention to cow comfort, proper nutrition and listening to your cows are tools to help maintain cow health and achieve expected production performance. Establishing routine and consistent systems to collect and analyze herd records is essential for healthy transitions. Work with your veterinarian and nutritionist to identify the monitors that are specific to the problem(s) that occur on your farm. Remember, too many monitors can lead to information overload and inaction.
Work together as a team, follow best management practices, use reliable data and act on that information. These steps can help minimize transition-cow problems and provide early and effective intervention for the problems that do occur.
Recommended Practices and Goals
|Removal of old feed from bunk||Daily|
|Availability of feed||≥23 hours/day|
|Feed push up||Every 4 hours|
|Feed refusals||3 to 5%|
|Eating space||≥24 in/cow|
|Water availability||≥4 linear in/cow|
|Social groupings||Separate parity groups|
|Cow comfort parameters|
|Hock scoring||>80% cows w/ hock lesions|
|Body condition score|
|At dry off||2.75 to 3.5|
|At calving||2.75 to 3.5|
|At peak milk (~60 DIM)||2.5 to 3.25|
|Cow behavior||>60% cows lying, chewing cud 2 hours after feeding|