It’s critical to detect metabolic and other disorders of fresh cows early, insists veterinarian Earl Aalseth of the Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, Wash.

"Clinical disease is just the tip of the iceberg," he notes. "Undetected subclinical diseases affect far more cows than clinical cases." Producers must shift from reactive treatment to proactive and even preventive protocols to prevent fresh-cow problems from robbing milk production.

To this end, Aalseth recommends dairies establish a series of health protocols dependent upon individual cow response to daily evaluations. These programs are more intense than taking rectal temperatures and giving antibiotic injections. Learn how to perform a thorough physical exam, and bone up on the symptoms — and treatment — of common ailments like toxic metritis, hypocalcemia, mastitis, diarrhea and pneumonia afflicting cows during this period.

He also suggests creating a fresh-cow pen for animals during the first 14 days in milk whenever possible. This decreases competition and encourages dry matter intake.

Get help from your veterinarian to develop protocols that best fit the management of your operation. However, don’t skimp on time, effort or personnel. "This is a skill position area," notes Aalseth.

Actions pay handsomely. "We’ve seen a five to one return on drug cost, or a $200 return on investment," reports Aalseth.