How to manage a fresh cow group

Managing a fresh cow group and ensuring sufficient feed and water intakes in fresh calvers were topics up for discussion at a recent best practice workshop, Spond Farm, Alton, Staffordshire.

Providing warm water with one litre of palm glycerol directly after calving can go along way to getting cows “off the blocks”, said Tony Jackson, Kite Consultant.

Speaking to a group of Arla Foods Milk Partnership farmers as part of Asda‘s DairyLink group, Mr Jackson explained it was essential to provide water as soon as possible as a cow’s enthusiasm to drink declines the further away from calving you move.

“Bring the water to her to ensure intakes. By including a glucose precursor, she is also more likely to drink and will be provided with an added energy boost.”

A cow does not drink for eight to ten hours during calving, said Alan Radourne, agricultural manager for Arla. “Consequently, at calving she is extremely dehydrated and the last thing she wants to do is eat.”

A freshly calved cow should be presented with a fresh, high yielding ration, straight in front of her nose as soon as she’s dropped the calf, said Mr Jackson.

“Calving a cow does not stop when the calf is on the ground, it stops when a cow has warm water and fresh food in front of her.

“This may be seen as yet another job, but the amount of time you will save by cows not having issues a few days later, is huge.”

The next 14 days post calving are the next major consideration, he continued.

“Setting up a TLC group on a loose straw yard is an excellent way of monitoring fresh calvers.”

When a cow calves, all the ligaments in the body loosen up, including those in the pelvis and feet. “Everything collapses, including the ligaments supporting the pedal bone. In fact it takes two weeks for ligaments to harden so the pedal bone is in the right place.”

When fresh calvers have been put on concrete too quickly after calving, this can manifest itself in a high incidence of sole ulcers, three to four months later.

“In reality, how many farmers have increased the size of your herd, but not the dry cow and fresh cow area?” he asked.

“You don’t need must to cater for your fresh calves, but be pragmatic on space, do not over-stock and ensure your fresh calvers are not housed with your sick cows.”

In an ideal world, self locking yokes are a good addition to fresh calving yards to allow close monitoring. “Stethoscopes are also a massively underused and incredible useful tool.

“At only about £10, a stethoscope is a good investment to monitor whether the stomach has ‘got going’ in your fresh calvers – the key is to be 24-48 hours ahead of any problem.”

Speak to your vet and get them to talk you through how a healthy stomach should sound, he said. “Ideally, it should sound like waves coming in on a beach. If movement is sluggish, then something is wrong.”

During the 14 days post calving, stock should also receive 200g of palm glycerol/head/day sprinkled over the ration. “This will stimulate the liver to use the diet and not break down fat and give animals a bit of a boost.”

Dairy farmer, Adam Ball of Spond Farm, Alton has always managed a fresh calving group in his herd of 200 Holstein Friesians.

“Managing these cows in a separate group is a huge advantage,” he said.

“This allows us to keep a close eye on their performance and monitor dry matter intakes. It also reduces stress post calving and allows feet to recover properly before cows move back in with the main herd.”

Potassium is a ‘dry cow killer’

Forage potassium levels are a lot higher this year, according to Kite’s David Levick.

“My feeling is everyone should get a mineral analysis on silages fed to dry cows because high potassium levels are a ‘dry cow killer’.

“Be aware of slurry applications on forage – this can increase potassium levels and potentially lead to milk fevers.”

And because potassium levels are high and there are some acidic silages around, it may be worth including a buffer in the fresh calver’s ration.

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