The festive period is now over and spring-calving farms are gearing up for the calving season, with transition cow management now key to a successful calving period.

A transition cow can be identified as a cow at three weeks pre-calving and three weeks post-calving. Dairy cows face many physiological challenges during this time.

Transition cow

Issues during the calving season can often be traced back to the transition period.

Examples of issues that can arise during the transition period include: Udder oedema; milk fever; retained placenta; displaced abomasum (stomach); laminitis; metritis; ketosis; and fatty liver syndrome – all of which result in lost profits.

Cows at the highest risk of metabolic issue are those that are not in the ideal body condition score (BCS) prior to calving.

A spring-calving cow should be in a BCS of 3.0 at calving; above or below this figure will lead to an increased risk of developing one of the issues outlined above.

If there are some cows that you believe are in too low of a BCS, they should be separated from the herd to ensure they are eating enough feed.


In the lead up to calving the feeding of minerals to cows is very important. Dietary calcium levels should be kept low pre-calving.

The risk of milk fever is reduced if dietary calcium levels can be maintained below 0.5% of dry matter (DM) before calving.

Minerals are usually fed at a rate of 120g/cow/day, if you are dusting minerals on silage it is better to do it twice-a-day at a rate of 60g.

Calving season

Preventing issues is better than dealing with them after it has happened. Cows that have issues around calving often have more issues during their lactation.

For example, a cow with milk fever is eight times more likely to develop mastitis early in lactation.

The management of cows during this period is vital to ensure that cows have a successful transition from late-pregnancy to early-lactation.

Cows should be monitored closely and at-risk cows identified. It is unlikely that you will not have some issues during the calving season, but mitigating the risks will reduce the number and the severity of the issues that do occur.