8 August 1997

Management keeps disease to minimum

FINE-tuning feeding and management of high yielding Elite cows in the two weeks before and one week after calving has eliminated metabolic disease this summer and will hopefully increase yields.

Herdsman Andy Stroud was disappointed with the number of milk fever cases suffered by Elite cows calving last winter.

"In the US one person is dedicated to looking after down calving and fresh calvers," he says. The idea is to detect signs of poor health before symptoms appear.

A management schedule was, therefore, drawn up for the Elite cows and a new maternity pen set aside for them before calving.

Maximising dry matter intake, as the most critical factor in determining cow health and performance, was central to the plan. It is not only influenced by the lactation diet itself, but rumen conditioning before calving, he says.

"This ensures a smooth transition from dry cow to lactation diets, allowing rumen bugs time to change from a fibre to a starch-based ration which needs a minimum of three weeks."

Last winter Elite cows were introduced to the milkers ration 10-14 days before calving, but feeding ad-lib led to milk fever, possibly as a result of excess calcium and potassium in the diet.

A specific ration which introduces carbohydrate sources from the lactation diet is now fed, but intakes are restricted to 7kg DM a day of this mix and ad-lib straw. Access control gates on feeder boxes stop cows reaching feed after they have eaten their daily ration.

Mr Stroud adds that cows and heifers with tight udders and over 280 days pregnant are milked before calving. This usually stimulates calving. Heifers not expected to calve within seven days of their due date are induced.

In the plan cows needing assistance at calving are treated with oxytocin, a long acting antibiotic, and vitamins. In the event, however, there were no difficult calvings.

Any cow not eating 5kg DM within 24 hours of calving would also be treated with calcium, vitamins, and a rumen stimulant. Again, this year all cows were eating over 5kg and did not require treatment.

For five days after calving cows temperatures are taken once a day. When temperatures are more than 1C (33.8F) above normal, cows are treated.

Of the 25 cows and heifers managed according to this protocol, seven received treatment for elevated temperature, four of which had retained placenta, and one cow had twins. One cow had no obvious cause of elevated temperature. Retained placentas continue to cause concern. It may be that the temperature increase for which cows are treated was pitched too low or that it detects cows with retained placentas.n

POST-CALVING CARE

&#8226 Monitor cows with difficult calvings or retained placenta.

&#8226 Check temperature is normal for five days post calving.

&#8226 Ensure rumen is functioning, by monitoring intake or rumen activity.

Andy Strouds aim is to pick up signs of poor health in Elite cows before any clinical symptoms appear.