Beware over-feeding fresh calvers

Milking four times a day with regular temperature checks may form part of an intensive programme for fresh calvers on some USA dairy units.

But vet Roger Blowey of Wood Veterinary Group, Glos, favours a more simple approach.

He believes a cow needs to recover from calving, eat well and get ready to milk, setting her up for lactation.

“Don’t try to get loads of high energy food into a freshly-calved cow straight away.

All she will do is produce milk, which is the last thing you want in the first week post-calving.

Pushing her too soon increases stress levels and results in ketosis, fatty liver and mastitis.”

Mr Blowey does not favour splitting cows off into separate maternity groups for specific examinations.

He feels cows spend too long standing and says excess standing can be a problem for freshly-calved cows.

At calving, the pedal bone loses its suspension.

It is thought to be the same hormone system that relaxes the pelvic ligaments, he says.

The pedal bone moves and pinches the corium between the bone above and the sole of the hoof below.

This leads to bleeding which eventually reaches the sole surface two months later.

This is seen as either a solar ulcer, or white line disease.

“So the aim is to encourage cows to lie down for the maximum length of time by giving them perfect lying conditions for at least one week before and one week after calving.”

Cows that have had a difficult calving or milk fever prefer a drink of warm water after calving, while Mr Blowey recommends offering good quality hay as part of the feed.

Cows’ dry matter intake falls two weeks before calving and rumination slows as contractions decrease dramatically.

This means a high fibre diet is needed to stimulate the rumen again.

Older cows benefit from a routine calcium bolus and oxytocin to expel placenta after a difficult calving or twins, he adds.

The most important factor in ensuring proper care of fresh calvers is to write down standard procedures describing necessary management tasks, says vet Paul Rapnicki from the University of Minnesota.

“Then ensure that employees are properly trained in conducting these procedures.”

The university operates a transition management facility which manages 400 dry cows until two weeks after calving when they join a 2500-cow commercial herd.

It has written protocols including an initial observation of the calved cow, udder preparation and first milking, clipping, data recording and calf care.

After calving, operators are advised to assess cow’s stability, general appearance and signs of milk fever in the calving pen.

Cows should be moved calmly at all times and given access to 67-90 litres (15-20 gallons) of lukewarm water immediately after calving.

“We do not believe in routine drenching of fresh cows.

Healthy fresh cows probably do not benefit and the risks associated with routine drenching – refluxing and aspiration – outweigh any potential benefits,” says Dr Rapnicki.