Each summer, I find myself working with producers on the problems that occur when cows and heifers freshen during the heat and humidity that we have in south Georgia. Some fresh-cow problems are always present, but during this time of year the incidence of metritis, ketosis, displaced abomasum (DA) or cows off feed increases. To minimize problems, several areas need to be addressed.
1. Reduce heat stress
Dry and close-up cows need heat-abatement systems as much as — if not more than — the milking herd. Fans, sprinklers and high-pressure misters can help minimize heat stress. Blood cortisol levels rise during periods of stress. Too much stress can lead to early calvings and abortions.
Heat stress also drops dry matter intakes. Keep a close watch on intakes, so ration adjustments can be made if intakes drop.
2. Cleanliness is a must
Maternity areas must be kept clean, because bacteria can increase quickly in hot weather. Cows that calve in manure-laden pens have a higher risk for mastitis and metritis.
If grassy lots are not available, use sand or other inorganic bedding materials that don’t promote bacterial growth. We often use peanut hulls mixed with lime. The hulls are dry and provide good cushion, while the lime provides a pH change to help inhibit bacterial growth.
3. What to do at freshening
When cows freshen, I encourage my producers to check each cow carefully.
Cows don’t eat or drink well prior to calving. After calving, they are often energy-deficient, slightly dehydrated, and have subclinical hypocalcemia. To help correct this situation, I prefer to give cows 8 to 10 gallons of electrolytes with some propylene glycol and calcium drench. This helps prevent early fresh cow ketosis and "off feeds." I also recommend oxytocin for the first two or three milkings to help prevent early mastitis and promote uterine involution.
Cows that were assisted at calving or have a retained placenta need immediate and aggressive treatments. I still like to infuse these cows with a 0.5 percent providone iodine solution, and then have an appointed person continue treatment every two or three days until discharge is normal. Early antibiotics also may be needed, as well as hormone therapy with estrogens and oxytocin or prostaglandin.
4. Closely monitor just-fresh cows
You need to monitor dry matter intake and rumen fill during this critical time. If you do not have a fresh cow group, encourage your cows to eat more forage. High-starch and low-fiber diets for fresh cows can lead to acidosis and left displaced abomasum (LDA).
Cows found off feed must be examined for uterine infections, ketosis, DA’s or signs of hypocalcemia — poor uterine and rumen tone, muscle weakness, and stiff gait. If found early, DA’s can be prevented with the same fresh cow oral fluid mixture. Supplement this with an IV of 50 percent dextrose and hypertonic saline, B vitamins and dexamethazone. Treat other problems as found. LDA’s should be treated as soon as they are found, and can be repaired surgically or by the roll-and-toggle method.
5. Improve your management
As important as finding and treating these cases is, it is more important to find the cause and prevent the problems from occurring.
Urine pH’s will show if anionic salts are working in the close-up group. Blood chemistries for electrolytes will detect mineral imbalances. Rumen taps and testing rumen pH will detect acidosis. Work with your veterinarian and nutritionist to determine the cause of fresh-cow problems on your farm, and then take steps to minimize them.
Jim Brett is a practicing veterinarian in Montezuma, Ga.