At a time when healthy, productive cows are critical for success on today’s dairies, managing the transition of fresh cows into high producing members of the herd is essential. Common areas of concern are milk fever, retained placenta, metritis, ketosis, mastitis, lameness, rumen indigestion, and displaced abomasum (DA).1,2
These illnesses put a great deal of stress on the animals, which can reduce dry matter intake (DMI) and deplete the nutrients needed for healthy milk production. Furthermore, a mere 24 hours off feed results in changes to rumen Ph, making it very alkaline. Such changes can cause the death of beneficial bacteria and increase the difficulty of starting cows back on feed.2
The cost of treating these disorders can result in significant veterinarian fees, along with the expense of added labor, discarded milk (if antibiotics are needed), and lost milk during lactation. Higher culling rates and even possible death are other costly concerns for dairy producers.3
Fluid therapy increases treatment success rates, providing essential rehydration and nutritional supplementation.
Fluid therapy, or “drenching,” is one of the most beneficial ways to increase treatment success rates for cows during sickness, at calving, and at times of reduced intake.2,3
In fresh cows, drenching has been shown to provide several benefits that help prevent transition problems and enhance milk production. And, in sick cows, drenching helps improve the chances of a full recovery and quicker return to productivity.2
Drenching does this by raising blood calcium and magnesium levels, minimizing body fat mobilization, restoring lost electrolytes, stimulating rumen microbial growth, and supporting liver health.2,3
Drenching benefits have been demonstrated in several field tests, including one at Texas A&M University where treated cows responded with greater milk production, less metritis, and lower levels of blood ketones and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA).4
Calcium propionate and alfalfa are essential drench mix ingredients, delivering key nutritional support and restoring energy.
There are a number of commercially available drench mixes. However, not all mixes include the right ingredients at effective enough levels to provide both the instant and residual energy needed to return cows to peak production.2
Based on scientific research and field tests, two essential ingredients that are either under-dosed or missing from many drench mixes are calcium propionate and alfalfa.2,3
Calcium propionate is a key ingredient for replenishing both energy and nutrition to support the demands of lactation, and it’s less injurious to the cow’s mouth and esophagus than calcium chloride. The energy from adequate amounts of this ingredient has been shown to help increase the treatment success rate. However, many drench mix products do not provide adequate amounts of calcium propionate to be beneficial, so care should be taken to ensure that the mix selected delivers 60 to 100 grams per drench.2,3
Equally important is alfalfa, which provides an excellent source of nutrients for rumen bugs. These beneficial microbes produce the volatile fatty acids (acetic, butyric, and propionic) cows use as an energy source. Other important benefits of alfalfa include a high protein content and a high proportion of soluble protein and rumen-degradable protein (RDP). Two to five pounds of alfalfa is the optimal amount to deliver in each drench.2,5,6
Other beneficial ingredients that should be provided in a quality drench mix to ensure fresh and sick cows receive the nutrition they need include:
· Calcium salts of fatty acids to support both calving and milk synthesis when appetite is depressed
· Dried whey to provide a readily available food source for rumen microbes
· Potassium and sodium to restore electrolytes lost at calving
· Magnesium to replenish marginal plasma magnesium levels at calving that can contribute to hypocalcaemia
· Strains of Enterococcus facium to deliver direct-fed microbials
· Niacin to help reduce the rate of fat mobilization, decrease the concentration of ketones in blood, and increase blood glucose levels
With attention to proper technique, drenching fresh and sick cows can be easily and safely done by one person.
An adult dairy cow requires 5 to 10 gallons of fluid administered into the rumen to ensure significant benefit. One person can quickly administer high volumes of fluids by an esophageal tube and pump. However, there are some important considerations when it comes to proper drench technique to be aware of and discuss with a dairy veterinarian.7
First, it is important to be patient during pumping. The cow should chew on the drenching tube throughout the pumping process. Pumping too fast causes reflux into the esophagus and throat. It is also vital that the drench system never be attached to a motorized pump. Doing so will exceed the cow’s ability to pass the liquid into the rumen and may result in drowning the animal.7
Second, be sure that the drenching tube is properly positioned before starting to pump. This requires checking to feel two hard objects in the throat rather than one. This is a sign that the tube has been successfully placed into the esophagus. If only one hard object is felt, it means the tube is inside the trachea and must be removed and re-inserted properly.7
Third, fresh and sick cows can be drenched 1 to 2 times per day over the course of the treatment period. However, this should be limited to drenching 2 times per 24 hours.7
Summary: Drenching is one of the most beneficial ways to increase treatment success rates in dairy cows.2
Fluid therapy is a proven and effective treatment for fresh and sick cows that are off feed, providing a simple and convenient method for rehydration and nutritional supplementation. This results in better rumen function, reduced incidence of metabolic and other disorders, improved feed consumption, and, ultimately, improved production.
1. Kopcha M. Oral fluid therapy for adult dairy cattle. Michigan Dairy Review. April 2008. Available at: https://msu.edu/~mdr/vol13no2/kopcha.html. Accessed July 6, 2017.
2. Currin J. Fluid therapy for sick cows: to pump or not to pump. Dairy Pipeline. Virginia Tech. October 2007. Available at: http://www.sites.ext.vt.edu/newsletter-archive/dairy/2007-10/FluidTherapy.html. Accessed July 19, 2017.
3. Hutjens M. Drenching fresh cows. Livestock Trail. University of Illinois. April 2002. Available at: http://livestocktrail.Illinois.edu/dairynet/paperDisplay.cfm?ContentID=636. Accessed July 6, 2017.
4. Stokes SR, Goff JP. Case study: Evaluation of calcium propionate and propylene glycol administered into the esophagus of dairy cattle at calving. Prof Anim Sci. 2001;17:115–122.
5. Puch H. Rumen bugs 101—feeding the microbes, not just the cow. Progressive Cattleman. December 2016. Available at: http://www.progressivecattle.com/topics/feed-nutrition/7611-rumen-bugs-101-feeding-the-microbes-not-just-the-cow. Accessed July 10, 2017.
6. Newell R. Alfalfa still reigns in dairy diets, but watch for surplus rdp. Progressive Dairyman. February 2015. Available at: http://www.progressivedairy.com/topics/feed-nutrition/alfalfa-still-reigns-in-dairy-diets-but-watch-for-surplus-rdp. Accessed July 10, 2017.
7. Goff J. Dr. Jesse Goff discusses “pumping” or “drenching” cows. Dairy Herd Management. June 2015. Available at: http://www.dairyherd.com/nutritionist-e-network/case-study/dr-jesse-goff-discusses-‘pumping’-or-‘drenching’-cows. Accessed July 6, 2017.