The transition period – from the late dry period to about a month after freshening – has become an area of considerable dairy management focus in the past decade. Michael Overton, DVM, MPVM, Senior Consultant – Dairy Informatics with Elanco KnowledgeSolutions, says it"s an investment in time and resources that has paid dividends for both the animals and the dairy producers who own them.
While multiparous cows may be the main target of these programs, Overton advises that first-calf heifers also are vulnerable to setbacks in the transition period, and should receive the following specialized care:
- Separate heifers from older cows in the close-up pen. Heifers have been shown to have longer resting times and higher dry-matter intake when separated from mature cows.
- Feed more protein. Some researchers believe that heifers need higher levels of protein during the close-up period (>15% CP or 1,100 to 1,200 grams of metabolizable protein) compared to mature cows.
- Consider skipping the DCAD. Feeding dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diets is not medically necessary for heifers, because they are not as susceptible to clinical hypocalcemia and are less affected by subclinical hypocalcemia compared to mature cows. However, some herds report improved performance with DCAD diets for heifers.
Overton adds that recordkeeping and routine evaluation of those records is an important part of transition-cow care, so trends in performance and health can be identified and addressed ahead of major transition problems.