Fresh cows are the most vulnerable and fragile animals on any dairy, and they face a unique combination of stress surrounding calving. Energy demands soar in early lactation as milk production begins. At the same time, dry matter intake is at its lowest, creating additional demand on body reserves to support milk production and still prepare the reproductive system for timely, efficient rebreeding. For many of these same reasons, metabolic diseases also are common during this time period and can lead to other reproductive challenges.

Ensuring that cows are able to achieve a smooth transition from the pre-fresh pen to the post-fresh milking herd requires a timeline approach which should begin a month before calving. It’s important to prepare fresh cows to withstand challenges such as ketosis, retained placenta, and other diseases which can cause a cascade of problems — including metritis.

Most often diagnosed within the first 10 days in milk, clinical metritis is defined as a uterine infection accompanied by inflammation involving all layers of the uterus. It is characterized by the presence of foul smelling, watery vaginal discharge. Fever also may be noticed, with temperatures of 103 degrees F or higher within the first 10 days in milk. Incidence rates for metritis range from 10 percent to 30 percent in herds.

According to Carlos Risco, University of Florida professor and veterinarian, preparing the at-risk post-partum cow for timely rebreeding should involve a timeline approach, at least until her first service.

  • Optimize immune function during the transition period (21 days before calving) for reduced calving-related disorders. The transition ration must be properly balanced for dietary-cation-anionic (DCAD) difference, energy, fiber, vitamins, and mineral content. Cows should be eating 24 to 26 pounds of dry matter per day and have 30 inches of bunk space, along with proper shelter. Body condition should be targeted at 3.5 to 3.75, and monitored. 
  • Calving supervision should involve trained personnel able to identify and properly treat dystocia, milk fever, retained placenta, and udder edema. The calving area also should be well-designed, and must be kept clean. 
  • Monitor health during early post-partum (10 days post-partum) for early disease diagnosis and treatment. Producers should work with their herd veterinarian to establish farm protocols and effectively train individuals who will be working with fresh cows. Fresh cow handlers must learn to identify sick cows and treat them early and correctly. Producers and herd employees should consider rectal temperature, changes in milk production, vaginal discharge and cow attitude as tools for diagnosis.
  • Optimize performance during post-partum by minimizing pen movements and by feeding a ration properly balanced for energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals. This will help to promote an early return to positive energy balance and resumption of cyclicity.  After calving, a cow’s body condition should continue to be monitored; they should not lose more than one point of BCS during the first 60 days after calving. During this time, prostaglandin should be administered to induce estrus to improve uterine health and initiate pre-synchronization programs. 
  • Optimize pregnancy rate at the end of voluntary waiting period (60-80 days post-partum) through the use of a timed AI protocol. This will ensure that all cows are bred for the first time as soon as possible following the designated voluntary waiting period.

“Our goal is to get cows through the challenging transition period in a healthy manner and prepare them for a timely return to AI service,” Risco adds. “If we’re able to maintain dry matter intake, these early lactation females should better withstand metabolic disease challenges and return to reproductive cycling earlier in lactation.”

Source: Pfizer Animal Health