June 16 2017 08:00 AM

Once overlooked, this group is key to a successful lactation.

Calving can be a challenging time for a cow. But the issues go beyond giving birth. Around freshening, the dairy cow is struggling with net energy, protein, and mineral imbalances due to the changes in her nutritional needs. Complicating the situation is the social pressure that comes from pen changes and the introduction to new cows.

The webinar “Monitoring and managing metabolic diseases in the transition cow” was presented by Daryl Nydam, D.V.M., Cornell University. He addressed several issues affecting this pivotal time.

The two hours before and after calving, the cow doubles her energy needs as her requirements change to a lactating cow. The first-lactation animal is still growing so a portion of her energy is still being used for growth, but now milk production is added to the mix.

Nydam compared it to a “couch potato,” a nonathletic person sitting a lot and then running a marathon. The body is not prepared for the changes and stress to come.

All cows (and all mammals) undergo a net energy balance issue in early lactation; it’s part of the life cycle. However, our goal as care takers is to shorten the duration and minimize the problems that can occur.

If we see a cow with a metabolic disorder, we treat her. However, how many cows are experiencing subclinical cases and not showing signs? Nydam and his team conducted some extensive research to look at high producing herds and studied “healthy” cows with no signs of illness.

They tested for beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHBA) and nonestrified fatty acids (NEFA) to examine the cow from the inside. Their results showed that many of the “healthy-appearing” cows were on the verge of several metabolic disorders, leading to declines in reproductive performance, drops in milk production, and therefore premature culling.

They also looked at when cows were impacted most significantly. Cows affected with ketosis before day seven of the lactation were more likely to have displaced abomasums, reproductive issues, declines in milk production, and be culled earlier versus cows affected after day eight.

With that in mind, ketosis was a focus of his webinar. If treated, typically with propylene glycol, cows can recover and reverse the impact on production and reproduction.

If you are unsure the prevalence in your herd, what should you do? He offered a few different ketosis testing products, as well as strategies to evaluate the herd.

Nydam also analyzed three dry cow rations and how each impacted cow health post-calving.

This veterinarian provided an abundance of research from working dairy farms in his presentation. It could stimulate some discussion and possible changes to your current transition cow practices.

The webinar was sponsored by Cargill Animal Nutrition and the webinar can be viewed here.

Michael Overton, D.V.M.
Join us for our next webinar “Opportunities and challenges in dairy replacement heifer raising” as Elanco’s Michael Overton, D.V.M., presents on Monday, July 10, at noon (Central time). Heifers are the future for dairies. With careful young stock management comes the opportunity to capture the investment made in genetic progress. However, there are also significant challenges that must be addressed to fully realize this potential.

Patti Hurtgen

The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars, and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.