Feb. 8 2016 09:43 AM

A good herdsperson not only observes but takes action.

In college, I fielded many questions about my agricultural communications degree that went something like this, "So you're studying to be a cow whisperer?" My quipped remark was often some type of dig at the individual's chosen major, but what I wanted to tell those people was that I was actually studying the art of talking to the real cow whisperers. As a dairy farmer's daughter, I spent many childhood hours following around my father who is a talented cowman and who for many years I believed was a genuine cow whisperer.

The trick, I learned, to "cow whispering" was to be observant. As new technologies arise, monitors and videos can help us with this task, but the importance of the task remains the same. Animal actions and interactions can tip off the observant producer to concerns in the herd.

Take, for example, the transition cow. A recent Iowa State University dairy team article described some studies that show behavior exhibited by the transitioning cow can suggest the initiation of disease. According to the article, cows suffering from mild to severe metritis following calving exhibited significantly lower dry matter intake starting one day prior to calving through the metritic event. Cows that experience hoof lesions within a few months following calving are more likely to be found perching during the two weeks leading up to calving. Animals with a lower average dry matter intake 11 to 12 hours prior to calving are more likely to experience dystocia than cows with higher dry matter intakes.

Although all of these signs are understood as general illness indicators, observing them early allows a producer to get a jump start on treatment or prevention. Even more important than noticing impending disease markers is utilizing them to initiate disease management protocols.

In the case of the transition cow, observation may result in early treatment or closer monitoring through the following days and months. If the behaviors are documented in cow after cow passing through the maternity pen, it may be time to analyze the precalving setup.

Being observant is an important trait for a herd manager. Maybe more important is the ability to take action based on observed behaviors.
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The author is an associate editor. She covers feeding, milk quality, youth activities and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. Maggie was raised on a 150-cow dairy near Valley Center, Kansas, and graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in agricultural communications and animal sciences.