Fresh Cow Health Critical – Dairy Herd Management

Ponder this disturbing factoid: “More than 35% of all dairy cows have at least one clinical disease event (metabolic or infectious) during the first 90 days in milk,” says Bobwealth Omontese, a post-doctoral associate with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Because of that, it is recommended to observe fresh cows daily during the first two weeks of lactation. This practice will help you identify sick animals in a timely manner,” he says.

It’s also important to track and record these events to get an idea of how the herd is performing. This allows you to calculate prevalence rates, and whether your herd is above or below normal for disease rates.

Table 1.  Herd alarm levels and cost per case for dairy cow diseases

Disease1

Cost/case

Herd alarm

Hyperketonemia (subclinical ketosis)

$289

15%

Clinical hypocalcemia

$150

3%

Subclinical hypocalcemia

$150

30%

Displaced abomasum

$700

3%

Retained fetal membranes (RP)

$232

5%

Metritis

$218

10%

Mastitis

$376

3%

Note: The prevalence of hyperketonemia, clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia, displaced abomasum, retain fetal membranes and metritis should be calculated as the number of cases divided by the number of fresh cows per month. The prevalence of mastitis is calculated by the number of clinical cases divided by the number of milking cows per month.   

It’s also important to monitor dry matter intake and feed bunks to ensure cows have access to feed. “Monitoring the feed bunk between feeding and the amount of refusals is important to gather information about sorting and feed push-up frequency,” says Omontese. That information can then be used to make necessary adjustments to maximize dry matter intake.

Table 2. Recommended feeding, bunk management and cow management during transition period.

Management practice

Goal

Removal of old feed from bunk

Daily

Availability of feed

at least 23 hours/day

Feed push-up

Every 4 hours

Refusals (feed)

3-5%

Eating space

at least 24 inches/head

Water availability

at least 4 linear inches/head

*Stocking density

 

Far-off dry cows

100%

**Close-up dry cows

80-100%

Fresh cows

80%

Pre-partum dry matter intake

 

Primiparous

at least 22 lbs/day

Multiparous

at least 26 lbs/day

Post-partum dry matter intake

 

Primiparous

at least 34 lbs/days

Multiparous

at least 42 lbs/day

Additional cow comfort parameters

 

Social grouping

Separate parity groups

Hock scoring

> 80% of cows without hock lesions

Body condition score

 

Dry-off

2.75 to 3.5

Calving

2.75 to 3.5

Peak milk production (~60 DIM)

2.5 to 3.25

Cow behavior

> 60% of lying cows chewing their cud 2 hours after feeding

Table source: University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine

*Stocking density calculated based on headlocks, not stalls

**Recommended close-up dry cows stocking density varies depending on breed and demographics of the pen. A lower stocking density (i.e., 80%) is beneficial for Holstein cattle and in herds where multiparous and primiparous animals are housed together. Higher stocking density (i.e., 100%) can be used in Jersey cattle herds without negative effects on health and performance postpartum.

For more information on fresh cow health parameters, go to: https://extension.umn.edu/dairy-animal-health-and-comfort/transition-dairy-cows#feeds-and-feeding-1741213

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