Kurt Stellingwerf, herdsman at Petter Dairy in Buhl, Idaho, can tell the history of a newly-fresh cow by examining her tail chalk pattern.

For example, a fresh cow with a tail chalk pattern of green-green-blue-green-green indicates the cow had a normal temperature and appearance the first two days post-partum, then went off feed on the third day. Upon immediate therapy, the cow’s appetite returned to normal on the fourth and fifth days. Early intervention stopped the downhill spiral that might have occurred if therapy had been delayed.

This early-warning system relies on daily observation of fresh cows, including taking body temperature readings. Each day, a cow falls into one of five categories, and is marked accordingly with one of five tail chalk colors. The first five days post-partum are recorded on the right side of the cow just in front of the tailhead; the last five days on the left side.

Talk to your veterinarian about establishing an early-warning system for fresh cows on your dairy.