April 3 2014 07:37 AM

Rumen fill must be prioritized when observing cows in lock-up.

If you were raised on a tie stall dairy, you quickly learned that a cow's appetite dropped well before her milk yield showed signs of slowing. As our industry has transitioned from this one-on-one setup, our focus, too, has shifted toward milk yield deviations to alert us to potential problems. "We need to find sick cows before milk yield drops. If we wait for this trigger, we are two to three days behind the illness curve," Gary Oetzel, UW-Madison, noted at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin's annual meeting in early March.

After cows are locked up 5 to 10 minutes, go down the FRONT of the cows, to evaluate intakes. Then, walk behind the cows to evaluate vaginal discharge and manure consistency. "Regardless of herd size, your total lock-up time must be under an hour. I have seen three people examine 300 cows in 45 minutes. We have to release cows as soon as possible," said Oetzel.

After we've identified a cow that requires a second look, a mini-physical exam is the next step.

"Rumen fill is No. 1. Your herdsman should become an expert in observing and palpating the left flank," noted Oetzel. "The left flank clues you into the potential for a DA (displaced abomasum): the rumen is pushed away from body wall and the last rib is sprung outward," he continued. A DA most often occurs between 8 and 10 days in milk (DIM).

With rumen observation checked off, rectal temperatures, which do not need to be taken each day, are secondary. A cow has a fever when her rectal temperature is above 103°F or 1.5°F above the group average during heat stress. "Yet, mild fever alone is not a sufficient reason to treat. Your worst metritis cow is the one that doesn't mount a normal fever," added Oetzel.

Following temperature is respiratory rate. Between 15 and 40 breaths per minute is normal. Watch for cows exerting extra effort or with nasal discharge.

Additionally, if a cow on the sick list is between 2 and 30 DIM, a ketosis check is a must. "Ketosis is the number one disease in almost all herds; 30 percent of cows will get ketosis," added Oetzel.

In our March 19, 2014, blog, "Watch appetite, not milk yield" we covered the first portion of Oetzel's fresh cow presentation.
Amanda blog footer
The author , Amanda smith, was an associate editor and an animal science graduate of Cornell University. Smith covered feeding, milk quality and headed up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. She grew up on a Medina, N.Y., dairy, and interned at a 1,700-cow western New York dairy, a large New York calf and heifer farm, and studied in New Zealand for one semester.