Less diet and pen changes around calving becomes one of the most important benefits of shorter dry periods. It is widely known that frequent diet changes may lead to lower DMI (Grummer and Rastani, 2004), and that cows with lower DMI near calving are more likely to have uterine problems after calving (Huzzey et al., 2007).
Huzzey et al., 2007 studied the relationship between feed and water intakes close to calving time and metritis rate in the postpartum period. These researchers used electronic equipment to measure feed and water intakes and cattle behavior in a group of 101 confined cows. All cows were evaluated from two weeks before calving until four weeks after calving.
Uterine infections were identified by inserting the arm with a palpation glove into the vagina, and uterine discharge was classified from 1 to 4. Rectal temperature was also checked in all cows. Therefore, cows were classified with severe metritis if uterine discharge was equal to 4 and temperature > 39.5°C. Cows classified as healthy presented clear mucus (score 1) and no fever. Cows with mild metritis presented intermediate parameters (please check original article for further details).
Results from this study indicated that cows with severe and mild metritis had lower milk production during the experimental period. However, the most interesting finding was that feed and water intakes were strongly related with metritis after calving. It was clear that animals with either severe or mild metritis had lower feed and water intakes – even before calving!
They also observed that the cow’s behavior was associated with metritis. In other words, cows with uterine infections were less dominant than healthy cows. It seems that one of the most effective ways to avoid postpartum problems (metritis, retained placenta, etc.) is by ensuring high DMI in the transition period. Thus, dairy producers should implement some management strategies to increase feed intakes and lower postpartum diseases, such as:
- Keep first calving heifers separated from older cows in the pre- and postpartum pens.
- Maximize feed and water intakes in the pre- and post-partum. Keep food and water available at all times!
- Avoid overstocking in the dry and close-up pens. For instance, divide the number of cows in the pen by the feed bunk space and pen area; avoid less than 30 inches of feed bunk space per cow, (i.e. Picture 1). Keep at least 30 square feet of bedded pack per cow.
- In general, keep body condition scores at around 3.0 to 3.5 – no more or less than that.
- Avoid changing cows to different pens around calving. Newly introduced cows will drop their feed intake until its hierarchy is established in the new pen.
- Improve cow comfort as much as possible during dry period. Avoid heat stress and improve bedding condition. Calving area must be clean, dry and well ventilated, like in Picture 2.
- 7Set up a consistent SOP for health checks in the early postpartum.