Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Time for a Transition Cow Intervention

Why do we focus so much attention on the transition period?  The return on investment for the first 100 DIM is 3:1.  A problem in the transition period results in greater health-related costs and lower productive and reproductive performance.  We plan to take the discussion a little further and provide you with real-life scenarios and problem-solving skills.  In this article on transition management, we will show you information and analysis from 2 herds, one that made a transition management error and another that corrected a problem.  The herds in this review are between 400-600 cows.  However, the concepts gleamed from this article can be applied to smaller herds.  From this discussion, we hope you take the time to critically review transition cow management on your farm. 


Herd A was performing well in 2009, with production in the high 80’s and lower 90’s, zero displaced abomasums, and 60-DIM cull rate < 6%.  Then, by early December, we begin to see a deviation from the transitional norm with a higher incidence of retained placentas, metritis, ketosis, and DA’s.  DairyComp305 dairy records analysis showed a graphically dramatic first-test butterfat spike for cows calving at the end of November. 

First-Test Butterfat

Herds with first-test butterfat over 1 percentage point higher than the herd average butterfat are at greater risk for ketosis.  First-test milk and Week 4 Milk in the same cows began to decline.   

First-Test Milk

Week 4 Milk

What management change occurred to create this transition problem?  Prior to November, Far-off dry cows were separated from pre-fresh cows giving pre-fresh cows sufficient feedbunk space at more than 30” per head and adequate bedpack space exceeding 150ft2.  Far-off cows were receiving a controlled energy ration (0.64 NeL) and the pre-fresh were being fed a higher energy steam up ration (0.69-0.72 NeL).  Due to a lack of shelter, the far-off cows were grouped with the pre-fresh cows and fed the prefresh ration when wintry weather developed in the middle of November.  By commingling the groups, feedbunk and bedpack space became limiting factors, and the energy level in the ration was too high for far-off dry cows resulting in the transition problems experienced by this herd.  Higher energy far-off diets predispose cows to health problems particularly if intakes are interrupted.  Furthermore, the far-off ration influences the response to close-up management.  We are fortunate that we only saw 6 LDA’s.  Today, the far-off dry cows are again segregated from pre-fresh cows giving pre-fresh adequate feedbunk and bedpack space.  Additionally, both groups are currently being fed a controlled energy TMR.  We have not seen a DA since the management changes were made.   The herd is currently averaging 98 pounds.   

Herd B appeared to be doing everything right.  The cows had adequate feedbunk and bedpack space.  In fact, mature cows and heifers were grouped separately and both groups were held to 80% populated to prevent overcrowding.  After calving, the fresh cows were moved to an equally comfortable fresh cow group that was also held to 80% populated.  However, fresh cows were not transitioning in well.  We saw too many down cows unresponsive to treatment, retained placentas, metritis, ketosis, stillbirths, 5% DA’s, and the cull rate (sold and died) <60DIM was too high at 8%.  Pre-fresh metabolic profiles revealed that NEFA levels were too high (too much early body fat metabolism) and albumin (protein) levels were too low.  With high NEFA’s and low albumin concurrently, dry matter intakes were a concern.  Additionally, close-up energy levels exceeded 0.72 NeL and protein levels were borderline too low. 

By late August, we chose to implement a one-group controlled energy TMR using hay and straw chopped to a consistent 2” length, with energy levels ~ 0.64NeL (15-16 Mcal/day) and metabolizable protein levels exceeding 1200g.  A well-designed controlled energy ration improves rumen fill which is maintained during the post-calving period.  Additionally, dry matter intakes immediately pre-calving experience a less significant drop prior to calving than higher energy diets.  Also, we eliminated wet haylage which was high in butyric acid from the prefresh ration and lowered it in the post-fresh ration.  Wet, high butyric acid haylage reduces DMI, suppresses the immune system, and increases the incidence of ketosis.  Since the ration change occurred in August 2009, DA incidence rate is <2%.  RP and metritis are below 3%.  Clinical milk fevers are non-existent.  Stillbirths went from 10% to 6%. 

DA Count

And with transitional health improving, we are starting to see a significant improvement in 21-day Pregnancy rate.  Over the last 6 months, preg rate is averaging 28%!

21-Day Pregnancy Rate

Both herds experienced common transitional management problems that we typically see.  Data analysis helped to pinpoint problems and support and monitor implementation of specific management changes.  In our example, eliminating overcrowding and utilizing controlled energy TMR’s enhanced transition performance.  

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