During the pre-fresh transition period, we commonly associate disease threats with metritis, milk fever and ketosis. However, respiratory disease challenges need just as much attention in your pre-fresh groups as they do in the calf barn.

Pre-fresh heifers and cows can easily fall victim to bovine respiratory syncytial virus infections because of their suppressed immune systems and exposure to environmental stressors.

The five weeks prior to freshening can be especially taxing on the immune systems of pre-fresh cows, explains Greg Edwards, senior veterinarian with Zoetis Dairy Technical Services. This is when pre-fresh cows and heifers start preparing for freshening and producing colostrum for their calves, he said.

“We need to think beyond common fresh cow diseases and help protect pre-fresh heifers and cows against respiratory diseases to help maximize health during transition,” Edwards advised. He recommends these pre-fresh management tips:

• Build immunity. Vaccinate to help keep cows in peak condition for immune responses.

• Nutrition supports health and immunity. Encourage dry matter intake with ample feed bunk space that gives each cow feed access at the same time. Let cows drink when they want and how they want by ensuring easy access to fresh water at all times.

• Control environmental conditions. Give cows a clean, dry resting space that accommodates their large, pre-fresh bodies. Protect cows from the elements and help cows maintain body temperature with a constant exchange of fresh outside air.

“Maintain pre-fresh health and wellness to help prepare heifers and cows for a successful next lactation,” Edwards advised. “Better health and maximized immunity can help provide a greater return on investment through increased milk production and lower treatment and labor costs during lactation.”