‘The dry cow – fresh cow transition accounts for 80% of herd health problems’

The dry cow – fresh cow transition accounts for 80% of herd health problems, according to Dr. Dan Ryan, who runs his own fertility management consultancy firm known as Reprodoc Ltd.

When we spoke to Dan back in September – on the reasoning behind poor fertility performance in herds – he said that farmers often overlook the effect of the transition period from a dry cow to a fresh cow diet – which studies have shown can have a major impact on a cow’s fertility later in the year.

This transition period includes the eight-weeks pre-calving and the two-weeks post-calving.

Regarding the pre-calving period, a high-quality forage-based diet should be fed. In addition, some farmers will often feed meal pre-calving to get the rumen up and running before the cow calves.

The feeding of adequate minerals pre-calving is another important aspect in getting cows prepared for calving; but not forgetting post-calving either.

As a prevention against grass tetany, cows should be provided with 50-60g CalMag per day post-calving. This can be fed in 1-2kg of concentrate, by pasture dusting or through water systems.

Once a cow has calved her energy demand automatically goes up, but because she has just freshly calved her intakes will be down; and so, she will not be consuming enough feed to meet her energy demand – resulting in the cow entering a negative-energy balance.

In prolonged cases, a cow will use up her bodily fat reserves to compensate for this energy deficit, or ‘milk off her own back’.

To avoid this, intakes post-calving should be encouraged as much as possible. The following are a few ways of optimising intakes post-calving.

1. Keep fresh, high-quality feed available

Having fresh, high-quality feed available to cows – at all times – post-calving will encourage intakes. Once calved, the cow should have access to a high-quality forage right away.

If feed is of high-quality, it will be more palatable encouraging intakes. It will also be higher in energy than if it was of poor-quality.

Grass is high in energy, so every effort should be made to get cows out, where possible. When allocating grass ensure a sufficient area is allocated for the number of cows grazing.

While cows are indoors, don’t allow cows to run out of feed; keep forage pushed into the barrier and ensure cows are not left without feed for long periods of time.

2. Access to water

Water plays a critical part in encouraging intakes. Cows must have continuous access to fresh, clean water.

Also, frequently clean out water troughs – dirty or stale water is unappealing to animals and will discourage them from drinking it.

3. Adequate cubicles and feed space

While speaking to Dan, he also pointed out that as cow numbers have increased it has not matched with housing and feeding space for everyone in the audience – in most cases.

This, he said, is having a particular impact on first and second calvers because they are lower in the pecking order – leading to a fall in intakes; and so, they can’t meet their energy demand.

Body condition score (BCS) should be closely monitored post-calving. Rapid BCS loss post-calving can cause health implications or failure to go back in-calf in the future.

Thin cows should not be ignored and should be acted on quickly to ensure they reach a target BCS of 2.75 at breeding.

Once-a-day (OAD) milking is an effective way to increase BCS; although, it is important that these cows are fed at the same rate as the cows on twice-a-day (TAD) milking.