Due to industry demands, the modern milk cow is adapting to a new way of life. The way dairies are being managed today has forced the cows to change their natural habits due to the way they are housed in confinement, where they have to compete for food and space. They also have to adapt to a more strict social structure (heifers in particular), because of the dominance exerted by older cows.

Other factors affect the animal. For instance, wet concrete can limit the ease of mobility (fear of falling), as well as cause pain, leg problems and reduce the heat (estrus) detection.

Let’s also take a look at some of the functions the cow has to accomplish when calving and entering the post-partum period:

  • She must give birth to an 85- to 100-pound calf.
  • She must involute the uterus to at least 50 percent during the first few hours after calving.
  • She must get accustomed to a new ration.
  • She must re-socialize herself to a new group of cows.
  • She must mobilize 23 grams of calcium in hers blood for every 2.5 gallons of milk she produces.
  • She must generate enough energy to maintain herself and produce at least 50 pounds of milk to keep the operation rolling.

Depending on the climate, the life cycle (dry, calving, lactating), facilities, nutrition and management, the animal will respond by being more or less productive and healthy.

During CLIMATE changes, we must keep in mind that heat and excessive cold affect the animal in a negative way; therefore, protecting the animal from extreme weather will produce positive results. If humidity is high enough, dairy cows can suffer heat stress with temperatures as low as 75 degrees F.

Depending on the LIFE CYCLE (dry, calving, fresh), the animal requires special care. Personnel in charge of each one of the areas must be trained to attend to the needs of the animal — in an effective and consistent manner.

Run-down or poorly engineered FACILITIES have a negative impact on the cow, as well as the economic performance of the dairy operation. It’s important to maintain constant supervision over these facilities. Over-crowded facilities and too much movement of maternity and fresh cows from pen to pen can be stressors and affect production, reproduction and health.

NUTRITION is the most important and costly factor in the business. Mixing the ration with fiber particles that are too long or too short can cause metabolic disorders in the cows, as can mixing inaccurate amounts of ingredients. To obtain positive results, it’s necessary to offer a consistently well-balanced well-mixed ration by a responsible and trained feeder.

The adequate, responsible, organized and consistent MANAGEMENT of the cow in its new environment will lead to more productive and healthy cows — and a profitable operation.

To achieve all of the things previously mentioned, TEAMWORK is required. Workers need to be consistently good at what they do to promote the health and production of the cow.

The cow is another marvel of God’s creation. She requires all of our attention. Let's take care of her.

Carlos M. Simmonds is a dairy consultant serving the dairy industry out of Idaho. He can be reached at camasife@msn.com.