Listen to your cows

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The birth of my twin boys, and five years later the birth of my third son, has changed the way I look at close-up and fresh cows. I suspect anyone who has been through the birth of a child feels the same way. We tend to be a bit anthropomorphic and attribute human qualities to non-humans. So, for the sake of this column, I’m going to be very unscientific and share with you what I think the cows would say if they could speak.

The close-up cow

“I’m cow 3458 and I’m due to freshen in 15 days. I need a clean and comfortable space where I can lie down and sprawl out.   I would like clean water and a fresh TMR without having to walk too far, and I don’t like to stand in line to eat. I also don’t want to be bothered by new heifers and cows that think they can push me around. So please, leave me in this pen for as long as possible.” 

The take-home messages: Provide close-up cows with a clean and comfortable bed that delivers adequate lying space. Avoid overcrowding during this time, and try to maintain group integrity in order to limit social stress that can occur with new entries into a pen. Keep fresh water and fresh TMR available at all times.

The cow in labor

“I’m cow 8923.  I’m expecting my second calf, so I’ve been through this before. I remember my first birth; I was so scared. My attendant was very patient and did not rush me, and I was able to deliver the calf without assistance. My calf and I were immediately attended to; the pampering was nice.  I was given a big drink of fresh water, and was able to get some good rest. My calf was well taken care of.  She was dried off, her navel was dipped in iodine, she got new ear tags, and was fed colostrum almost immediately.”

The take-home messages: Allow cows and heifers to calve in a calm, clean environment. This requires a well-trained staff with a “cause-no-harm attitude” when pulling calves. Give cows fresh feed and water shortly after birth. Instruct employees on prompt and proper calf-care, including colostrum handling and delivery.

The fresh cow

“Hi, I’m cow 3564 and I’m on my way to the parlor. I’m being milked four times a day, and it is such a relief because I have so much pressure in my udder now.  When I am through milking, I go immediately to the water trough and take a big drink before I head back to the pen to eat.  I plan on taking a long nap after breakfast.  I still ache and am sore from calving.  My heath is checked everyday, which gives me assurance that corrective actions will be taken quickly so that I can remain healthy and will breed back faster.”

The take-home messages: Keep fresh cows on a regular schedule. Instruct employees on proper cow prep for good milk-out, and provide access to water after milking. Implement a fresh-cow-health program that will help you detect developing health problems before they become clinical cases. Train all employees who work with these cows to have a watchful eye to help ensure a good transition into the milking string.

The milking cow

“I’m cow 2489.  I’ve graduated from the fresh pen with a clean bill of health, and I just got my vaccinations. Now, I’ll be in the breeding pen with other high-producing cows.  I need my rest and lots of fresh TMR.  I don’t like to wait in line to eat, so I hope this pen is not too crowded.”

The take-home messages: Make sure your vaccination protocols are up-to-date and implemented on schedule. Instruct employees on proper vaccine handling and administration. If you don’t already manage cows by production level, talk to your veterinarian about the advantages of doing so. And for best results, avoid overcrowding.

While this column may have been a bit unorthodox, I hope it has caused you to put yourself in your cows’ shoes. Doing so can help you learn to focus on the animals’ needs and discover practices and procedures that you can improve in order to help your cows reach their production potential.  

Angela M. Daniels is a practicing veterinarian with Circle H Animal Health in Dalhart, Texas.



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