Help your cow through transition and improve her productive life

The transition period from the weeks prior to calving to delivery and into first lactation is a crucial one when it comes to cow longevity. It’s a period where the cow goes through significant bodily changes and is exposed to increased risks that can affect her productive future. 

“The very abrupt and rapid change in metabolism from the dry period to calving and milking is very stressful for the cow,” says Charlotte Hallén Sandgren, head of Dairy Development at DeLaval.

“A high-producing cow can often get into a poor metabolic state and that can lead to diseases.” In fact, up 30 - 50% of the cows get sick during the transition period.

But the risk for disease can come down considerably if the right precautions are taken.

Ken Nordlund is a retired professor from the Food Animal Production Medicine group in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. During his career, Nordlund looked closely at the transition period and its importance for cow longevity.  

His work shows that housing factors and management are the most important factors to take into consideration when helping cows through the transition period.

This means ensuring sufficient bunk space so that cows can eat as soon as fresh feed arrives. Deeply bedded stalls and enough space within the stall to lie down and get up again are also very helpful in getting the cows back to stable health again. 

Cows that are about to calf also need to avoid social stress as well as physical stress and that means keeping them in the same social groups as much as possible . The first two days after entry into a new social group are characterized by a lot of, mainly physical, reactions such as reduced time spent eating and reduced milk yield.

Perhaps an obvious conclusion is that it’s extremely important to keep a close eye on your cows during this delicate transition period. “Monitor, monitor, monitor,” says Hallén Sandgren. “If you can detect health changes early then it’s much easier to deal with diseases or other issues before they become a serious problem. It gives you a much bigger chance of ensuring that your cow will be able to reproduce again and continue providing good quality and high quantities of milk.”

This is the third article in our series on cow longevity.