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CAHL Ltd.
Tullow
Co. Carlow
Ireland

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+353 (0) 59 915 1251
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+353 (0) 59 915 1856
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cgibson@cahl.ie

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Nutribio Ltd.
Tivoli Industrial Estate
Cork
Ireland

Tel:
+353 (0) 214 507 303
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+353 (0) 214 507 152
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orders@nutribio.ie

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Managing the Post-Calving Cow

cow-and-calf sml

Managing the Post-Calving Cow

Calving is already underway in some of the earlier spring calving herds in the country, with the majority of herds due to begin calving in the next few weeks. The transition period (3 weeks before and 3 weeks after calving) is a crucial time on dairy farms, and if successful, lays the platform for good production and fertility later in lactation. Any incidence of metabolic disorders in early lactation cows will reduce intake, milk production and fertility performance.

Often known as ‘The Gateway Disorder’, Milk Fever is the key issue to be aware of. With the onset of lactation, huge demands for calcium (1.2 – 1.5g per kg of milk) are placed on the cow. If calcium supply (from the bones and diet) does not meet demand, the cow will become deficient in calcium. A primary role of calcium in the cow is in muscle contractions – therefore a cow with either clinical or subclinical milk fever is at increased risk of developing a host of other problems, including retained placenta, metritis, mastitis, displaced abomasum and ketosis. A good dry cow nutrition and mineral program will help to prevent milk fever, with optimum levels of Magnesium and Vitamin D3 to enhance Calcium uptake from bone stores and the gut. This is particularly important in the 3 weeks leading up to calving. A Calcium-rich, high quality post-calver mineral (minimum 20% calcium) should be fed to all cows, which will also provide the required trace elements and vitamins. Cows at higher risk of clinical milk fever (high yielding and older cows), and cows with a history of milk fever should receive an additional calcium source immediately after calving (e.g. drinks, boluses, pastes). The issue of sub-clinical milk fever should not be ignored, and on many farms treatment of all cows with calcium at calving may result in improvements in cow health and performance.

Dry matter intake (DMI) is another essential component of early lactation cow health. A period of Negative Energy Balance (NEB) occurs in every cow in early lactation, as the energy required for milk production exceeds intake from the diet. Issues arise when the severity and duration of NEB increase – with extensive research showing the negative effects on fertility of severe NEB. Cows outside the range of 3-3.5 BCS at calving are most at risk – the goal is for individual cows to lose no more than 0.5 BCS between calving and mating. Rumen function must therefore be optimised from calving in order for cows to achieve maximum potential intake. If large amounts of concentrates are being fed, introduce gradually to avoid digestive upsets, and maintain a minimum of 50% forage in the diet.

A common problem in early lactation is ketosis, primarily in over-conditioned (BCS > 3.5) cows at calving. This is especially relevant this year, with many cows dry for longer than normal due to the quota scenario.  Cows with ketosis will have reduced DMI and milk yield, and will be at risk of other metabolic disorders and reduced fertility. Feed a high UFL ration to increase energy intakes to help prevent ketosis, and monitor the bulk tank to be aware of issues arising. Although not an exact science, if the milk fat:protein ration is consistently above 1.3:1, ketosis problems may be present in your herd. Cows with clinical ketosis should be treated with a propylene glycol drench.

Treat cows with retained placenta or metritis as early as possible, in order for them to have the best chance of going back in calf early this breeding season. In summary, actions taken now to minimise the incidence of metabolic disorders in dairy herds will have beneficial effects on fertility and milk production for the rest of the year. In all cases, prevention is better than cure.

Author: Dr. Ian Hutchinson, Ruminant Nutritionist, Nutribio/Co-Operative Animal Health Ltd.