Dairy farmers, nutritionists, and veterinarians report a critical need to monitor cow immediately after calving until they are ready to aggressively begin their lactation. A fresh cow strategy allows these cows to be monitored and observed on a daily basis. One problem is allowing fresh cows to be mixed in with a larger group of cows where individual health, feed intake, and eating patterns can not be monitored. Facilities on dairy farms force the fresh cow to move to a milking string. Several strategies are listed below.


1. Feed intake. While individual dry matter intake can not be easily measured, watching the cow's behavior and eating pattern can be recorded. Does she eat aggressively? Will she compete with other fresh cows? How long does the cow eat at the feed bunk after milking? If cows are in lock ups, some estimating of dry matter intake can be made (for example using a scale from 0 to 5 with 1 = little consumed to 5 = all reachable feed consumed). This information must be considered before moving a cow.

2. Body temperatures. Farmers report fresh cows commonly run temperatures for 1 to 3 days after calving. Until the temperature returns to normal (under 102.5 degrees for first calf heifers and under 103 degrees for older cows), dry matter intake and health can be compromised. One Illinois dairy farmer reported over 40 percent of his cows had a temperature 3 to 5 days after calving which he and his veterinarians attributes to poor uterine health. If a temperature occurs, develop a strategy on how to deal with the it (calcium source, fever reducer, appetite stimulant, and/or uterine contractors). If the cow appears sick, a systemic antibiotic recommended by your veterinarian may be warranted.

3. Ketosis measurements. Urine ketone tests can be a valuable tool to assess energy status (weight loss, dry matter intake, and blood NEFA). One New York dairy manager uses this test to spot cows not eating the desired levels of dry matter.

4. Rumen movements. A New York dairy manager checks rumen movements with a stethoscope every milking for five days. If two or more movements per minute occur, not action is taken. If one to two movements occur per minute, cows are given dexamethasone and vitamim B. If less than one movement per minute occurs, he treats the cow with calcium, glucose, recover, and dexamethasone.

5. Uterine health. Observe fresh cows for discharges and odors that may indicate an infection is or has developed.


The length of time a cow remains in the fresh group varies depending on space, milk parlor size, and criteria for graduation. Some dairy manager has a fixed time until cows are moved up. A common time line is 14 days. This strategy has several limitations.

* Some cows will be able to move sooner (3 days)
* Other cows will need more time (as long as three weeks)
* The fresh cow ration is not ideal or too expensive for 14 days

Guidelines for a fresh cow ration is listed in Table 1 and compared to an high group ration.


The next question is which ration will the fresh cows receive? The low group TMR is a common ration because it is higher in fiber and forages, contains less fermentable carbohydrate, and is "safe" when transitioning the rumen. The big limitation is if the cow is ready to go, she is fed a ration that will not support high levels of milk yield limiting her nutrient intake. Another alternative is the high group TMR. The main concern is shifting to a diet that can challenge the rumen and lead to metabolic disorders, especially acidosis and off-feed risks. Thus, a specific fresh cow ration should be developed. One alternative is to limit feed the high group TMR, provided 3 to 5 pounds of top quality baled hay (stimulate cud chewing and rumen function) which could be topdressed if cows are in lock-ups, and top dress a palatable fresh cow cocktail mix (chelated trace minerals, yeast culture, buffers, niacin, added vitamin E, digestible fiber, economic source of sugar, and undegradable protein).


Housing for the fresh cow is another point. An Ohio dairy manager used fresh cow pens bedded with sand and managed like free stalls. Cows could enter any pen providing maximum comfort and freedom. Pens were policed twice a day and manure droppings removed.


The key reported by dairy managers is to place their best employee/son/daughter/herdsperson in charge of this area. Once the cow leaves the group, most cows are well on the way to successful lactation. In larger herds, this is one area where individual cow monitoring is critical for success. If no facility is available, one must be developed.

Source: Michael F. Hutjens, University of Illinois