Milk fever prevention lifts herd profitability

Milk fever (hypocalcaemia) affects 5-10% of all UK dairy cows, with each clinical case costing on average £250 to treat. However, good preventative strategies can reduce the instance of the disease while increasing herd productivity and farm profitability.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly, leading milk fever expert Paul Constable said every case of clinical milk fever reveals six to seven sub-clinical cases of the disease within the herd which often remain undetected by the farmer.

In addition, Mr Constable said sub-clinical cases often leave cattle susceptible to other diseases such as mastitis, dystocia, displaced abomasum and retained placenta, despite milk fever itself being a “relatively treatable” condition.

“Milk fever is preventable but by not controlling calcium and not having a good milk fever prevention programme, you are having more cases of other diseases but you might not necessarily make the link,” he added. “Therefore if you are able to prevent the sub-clinical cases of milk fever, you will decrease the instances of the other diseases.”

He recommended three treatment strategies for the prevention of milk fever with cows falling into the “at risk” category being identified as: those calving for the second time or more; those over-conditioned in the dry period; and those that have previously suffered from the condition.

1. Identify “at risk cows” and give them calcium solutions under the skin at or immediately after calving.

2. Alternatively give “at risk cows” oral calcium formulations at or immediately after calving.

3. In large herds it is possible to alter the diet of “at risk” cattle during the dry period by added salts that change the acid base balance of the dry cow to facilitate calcium uptake (this is often known as Decad or Decab).

Boehringer Ingelheim vet advisor Laura Randall added: “Many farmers accept the odd case of milk fever as part and parcel of dairy farming, but this need not be the case. When you see a clinical case, which invariably requires the immediate intervention of a vet, this is an indication or warning that other cows in the herd could also be suffering at a sub-clinical level.”

“Clinical and sub-clinical milk fever can, to a large extent, be prevented by good dry cow management and appropriate nutrition – good preventative strategies should be an integral part of the herd health management strategy on all farms,” she added.

Vet Bill May added: “We still see some farmers that have problems with the disease.

“One clinical case tells you that the strategy for milk fever prevention has gone wrong, so we are trying to raise awareness of the different ways farmers can prevent milk fever whether that be the strategy of injecting solutions to risk cows, or giving oral calcium formulations.”