The most important ingredient to fresh-cow health is a separate pen for fresh cows during the first 10 to 14 days in milk, says Earl Aalseth, Aalseth Dairy Consulting, of Lake Stevens, Wash. Here are three reasons why you should invest in a separate fresh-cow pen:

1. Labor efficiency. If fresh cows go into a general milking group of 200 to 500 cows, you have to spend time each day just finding them within the group. This is time-consuming, and some cows may ultimately get missed. 

2. Good dry matter intake. To accomplish this goal, Aalseth recommends stocking a fresh-cow pen at no more than 85 percent of capacity.

3. Graduated milking frequency. Many producers increase the milking frequency of newly fresh cows for the first 20 or 40 days in milk. However, if you group all of these cows together, you end up with cows 30 days-in-milk that are more competitive at the feed bunk than the newly fresh cows. Therefore, you may need two fresh-cow groups — one that is one to 14 DIM, and the other 15 to 40 DIM. Or, if you only have room for one group, then leave more than 15 percent open space at the feed manger.