The Calving Cow
Even where a well designed dry cow and transition feeding and management program has been followed, calving is a critical time for the cow.
What happens at and around calving will have a major bearing on whether the cow calves easily and moves seemlessly into lactation achieving exceptional milk yields. Will she be free of milk fever (hypocalcaemia), metritis, metabolic disorders, ketosis, mastitis, maintain body condition, get back in calf and survive to see another lactation. Or will she succumb to clinical or sub-clinical milk fever, retained cleansings, metritis, ketosis, displaced abomasum and other metabolic disorders, infertility, reduced milk output and be culled.
Milk Fever and the Calving Cow
Milk fever or hypocalcaemia (shortage of calcium) will typically hit around 5% - 10% of calving cows in the UK, mainly 3rd of 4th lactation cows. The cost of clinical cases is plain to see. The downer cow. The vet bills. The cows that are lost every year. The overall cost of a clinical case of milk fever can easily be over £300 per cow.
USDA (2005) research indicates that 50% - 70% of cows may be affected by sub clinical milk fever. These sub-clinical cases are the ones that you don't see. Sub-clinical hypocalcaemia has been proven to result in production losses, reduced fertility, as well as increased metabolic problems and disease incidence. For example Massey et al. (1993) demonstrated that cows with sub-clinical milk fever were 4.8x more likely to have left side displaced abomasums. Hypocalcaemia can also result in 9x more ketosis, 6x more calving difficulties, 4x more retained placenta and an increase in infectious disease incidence.
But it is the sub-clinical milk fever cases whose true economic cost to the dairy farmer is often not appreciated. These sub-clinical milk fevers the ones that don't show any symptoms can, and do, cause a variety of problems including retained cleansings, metritis, mastitis, displaced abomasums, reduced dry matter intakes, ketosis, increased negative energy balance in early lactation, excessive loss of body condition score, reduced milk yields and infertility.
Are Problems in Your Herd the Result of Sub-Clinical Milk Fever
In the time shortly before and after calving, large amounts of calcium are removed from the blood to the milk resulting in a rapid drop of calcium. Milk fever is caused by the failure of calcium absorption to increase fast enough at calving to meet demand, with symptoms such as lack of appetite, low body temperature and muscle tremors. Clinical cases of milk fever are routinely treated by bottling or bolusing with calcium.
However whilst Sub-Clinical Milk Fever affects the majority of cows in most dairy herds, there are no visible signs of the disorder, consequently it is very important to take routine preventative action.
A well designed dry cow feeding programme is essential, but even so, unless forages can be fed which are particularly low in potassium sub-clinical milk fevers will still be reducing lactation performance, fertility and profitability.
Milk Fever Prevention at Calving
Magnesium Chloride and DCAD - The traditional approach to controlling milk fever in the UK is to feed a low calcium, high magnesium diet throughout the dry dry period. This approach has often failed where calcium levels in the forage are not sufficiently low to allow the cow to adapt to a shortage of calcium during the dry period thus avoiding hypocalcaemia and milk fever at calving.
Milk fever is rarely a problem where the Dietary Cation Anion Balance (DCAB or DCAD) on the dry cow diet is low for example when the potassium levels in the diet are below 1.5%. In practice the potassium level of UK forages is difficult to predict and is very variable between 2% and 4%. Straw, maize and wholecrop is generally lower than grass or grass silage.
Feeding 50 - 200gms of magnesium chloride flakes in the TMR or dissolved in water to reduce the DCAD of the diet and to add additional magnesium can be effective in preventing milk fever at low to moderate potassium levels. This approach is not effective where potassium levels in forage are above 2.5%. The cows urine pH can be tested and should be 6.5 - 7pH. If this cannot be achieved then the forage should be changed or another approach considered.
X-Zelit - a new product developed in Denmark specifically for milk fever prevention, is now available from RWN. X-Zelit is a Calcium binding feed supplement containing synthetic zeolite which binds calcium from feeds in the gut. Supplementing with X-Zelit stimulates the cow's hormone system to mobilise calcium from the bodies reserves ensuring that adequate supplies of calcium are available at calving preventing milk fever. X-Zelit is fed at 0.5kg/cow/day for two weeks prior to calving.
Make Milk Fever History - Optimum Calcium Balance at Calving
More Milk, Fewer Metabolic Problems, Lower Cell Counts, Improved Fertility
Extensive commercial farm trials have shown that X-Zelit is highly effective in the prevention of both clinical and sub-clinical milk fever, even on farms where potassium levels are high and where other systems of milk fever control have failed. Whilst more costly than traditional approaches to milk fever control, X-Zelit has proven extremely effective and the additional cost involved is easily justified by increased milk yield and improved herd health. Even herds with low levels of milk fever have reported easier calving, improved appetites and higher dry matter intakes post calving, reduced metabolic problems, improved fertility, better milk quality and improved milk yields.
Download our X-Zelit PDF brochures Making Milk Fever History and see how X-Zelit can increase milk yield by a litre a day over a lactation even in dairy herds with well designed dry cow feeding programmes who are already achieving very low incidence of milk fever Have a Litre On Us .
Calving Bolus Extra - The popularity of calcium boluses has increased phenomenally in recent years right across Europe.
Calving Bolus Extra is an advanced new type of calcium bolus. Cows are dosed at or a few hours before calving. The bolus is based on a combination of organic calcium sources along with magnesium and Vitamin D. These are quickly dissolved into the rumen fluid and are rapidly absorbed into the blood working in a number of ways to help maintain calcium metabolism for up to 24 hours after calving.
The routine use of calcium boluses across all second calvers and above is now highly recommended as a preventative for sub-clinical milk fevers. Bolusing is a much quicker and easier option than injecting with bottles of calcium borogluconate.
Improved calcium metabolism results in better appetites and fewer problems at and around calving. Bolusing cows is straight forward as can be seen in this video and bolusing is proving to be a very effective tool in the prevention of milk fever.
The hours immediately post calving are a critical time which can have massive implications for performance during the ensuing lactation. Even when cows show no symptoms sub-clinical hypocalcaemia can have a huge impact on cow health and performance in the coming lactation.
Dose all 2nd Calvers and above at Calving as Routine.
The cost of a Calcium Bolus is minimal compared with the cost of Milk Fever
The Fresh Calver
It is vital to get new calvers fully re-hydrated, up and back on to feed as soon as possible. Many of our clients now use a highly palatable rumen-filling drink as routine to rehydrate all new calved cows.
F1 Fresh Start - is a drink for fresh calved cows, designed to achieve rapid post-calving intake of energy, calcium propionate, phosphorous, live yeast and probiotics, vitamins, protected choline, trace elements, electrolytes and water in order to achieve effective re-hydration. 1kg of this extremely palatable post calving supplement is dissolved into 20 - 40 litres of hot water.
Re-hydration from drinking this soluble energising formula results in a rapid return to full appetite. Fed as a drink immediately post calving, most cows drain the bucket before going to lick the calf and then go and take solid feed.
Increasing the capacity of the rumen by up to 40 litres at this stage has some very impressive long-term benefits. Re-inflation of the rumen and rapid return full appetite reduces the risk of a displaced abomasum (LDA) as well as returning the cow to normal intakes of calcium, minerals, trace elements and energy. Effectively we create a big appetite right from the start of lactation. This reduces negative energy balance (NEB), gives a more rapid uplift in milk yield and a significant fertility response later on in lactation.
Farmers using F1 Fresh Start report fewer milk fevers, reduced incidence of retained placenta, less displaced abomasums and fewer metabolic disorders during early lactation, as well as improved performance with fewer health problems in the subsequent lactation.
Fresh Start is
a fundamentally essential product for all fresh calved cows.
There are major long-term benefits
Getting the feeding, housing and management of dry cows right through the dry period, and the through Transition, 3 weeks pre-calving to 3 week post calving, is more important than any other time. Transition management is key to herd health to fertility and to profitable milk production.
Even when you have it as good as you can it, it is still well worth putting some additional measures in place to minimise the effects of sub-clinical milk fever and to get the new calver fully rehydrated and back on feed and into lactation without problems.
Full nutritional support package free of charge to customers along with the most extensive range of high quality feed inputs available.
For advice on designing an effective dry cow and transition feed programme, contact Richard Webster