Are fresh cows a priority on your dairy? Do you want to improve their productivity and your dairy’s profitability? If so, you may be ready to take your fresh-cow management to the next level.

But before you jump into an aggressive fresh-cow-management program, there are a few things you must consider before you leap. Use this quiz to help you find out if your dairy is ready to go to the next level in fresh-cow management.

1. Can you commit to the program?

“You need to decide for yourself that this is an important program for your dairy that will improve cow health and overall profitability,” says Mark Kirkpatrick, of Pfizer Animal Health Group’s Veterinary Operations.

Don’t do it because somebody else says that you should. It must be instituted for the right reasons because performing the protocols half-heartedly won’t yield the full benefits possible from an intensive fresh-cow program.

2. Are you willing to invest in training?

“Training is the key,” says Rick Thompson, of Thompson Dairy in Wendell, Idaho. “And you have to constantly retrain people in this position. Our herdsman does an excellent job of keeping his people on top of things, but with employee turnover and health updates, training is a constant.”

3. Are you in it for the long haul?

Once you implement an aggressive fresh-cow- management program, all of your fresh-cow health problems won’t instantly go away. Treatment usage and cost will fluctuate — especially at the beginning of a program. And, don’t be surprised if fresh cows require more treatments than you initially expect.

“These spikes are an opportunity to track down a problem and take care of it in the long-run,” says Kirkpatrick. “Don’t shut the program down or reduce treatments because you think treatment cost is excessive. You’re actually saving money in the long-run, since full-blown disease cost much more than treating problems before they become serious.”

4. Can you segregate fresh cows?

A separate space for fresh cows — not co-mingled with hospital cows — is one of the most important tenets of any program. You gain the most benefit when fresh-cow pens are stocked at 80 to 85 percent of capacity.

This allows cows plenty of eating and resting space without competition, explains Earl Aalseth, veterinarian at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, Wash.

And it makes groups small enough that the individuals working with fresh cows can easily see what’s going on with the animals, says Thompson.

The program works even better when you can separate mature cows from first-lactation animals. “However, I know that not everybody has the facilities to do this,” Aalseth says. When space is an issue, the most important thing is to pay attention to the health responses of your fresh cows for the first 12 days of their lactation and work to ensure they get the best start possible.

5. Will you keep good records?

The program requires you to track a variety of cow-health parameters, treatments used and animal progress. Depending on your management style and resources, you could use:

With any of these systems, significant health events need to be transferred to herd records to aid in your overall management.

If you can’t commit to each of these five criteria, success will most likely elude you. And it may not be worth it to attempt this program on your dairy. On the flip side, if you’re willing to follow these recommendations, you can significantly influence your herd’s health and productivity.