Take a moment to think about your last cow to calve. Was it smooth sailing or were there complications? If a complication arose, has this issue occurred before?

While a fresh pen issue may seem random or one-off, it might not be. Taking a closer look may help connect the dots and uncover something previously unnoticed.

An entire herd’s milk production performance is on the line when it comes to fresh cow health and performance. Healthy cows produce more milk. Each additional pound of milk at a cow’s peak can result in 200 to 250 pounds more milk throughout its lactation.

Fresh cows are at risk for transition challenges. However, recognizing these risks and implementing appropriate nutrition and animal management protocols can increase your herd’s milk production potential. Here’s an approach to help guide the process.

Mine the data

Track fresh cow events. In this fast-paced industry, each sick cow may seem like an isolated event. In reality, an issue might be surfacing in your herd. Use your data to help determine trends and when action is needed.


To begin, start with the last three months. Ask:

1. How many fresh cow health events have you seen? Is it more than you expected?

2. What percentage of your herd has been affected? Are cows affected at the same stage?

3. Are certain health challenges occurring too frequently?

Identifying trends and patterns, based on rates or percentages, can better show where opportunities exist. For example, the number of health events during the transition period might show a high rate of ketosis diagnosed. You never know what you will discover by doing the math to answer these questions.

Go one step further

Once you identify that a health event seems to occur regularly, ask yourself, “Were they mostly first-lactation animals or were they more mature cows?” The data could indicate it’s mostly first- and second-lactation animals having issues.

When you have that answer, ask:

1. What are you doing differently in that pre-fresh ration compared to the others? (i.e., heifer versus transition/dry cow diets) Are management practices, such as pen moves or stocking density, different?

2. Is your young animal program setting your calves up for the most productive life possible? What could you change?

3. Would your second-plus-lactation animals benefit from diet, ration management or grouping strategy changes for your current facilities and expected calvings?

Take a moment to think about what insights you can discover by asking focused questions. What could this mean for your farm? Are there pieces you’re missing from your pre-fresh diets and facilities? Could a change reduce the number of transition cow issues?

The answers could help take your transition cow program to a whole new level. You may only need a few adjustments.

Re-evaluate your nutrition

If you uncover an area of opportunity for the transition period, many times it can be improved with nutrition changes. Common pre-fresh nutritional approaches like appropriate energy levels, high-effective-fiber rations and balancing dietary cation-anion difference to minimize metabolic issues at freshening are important strategies, but they are only part of the equation.

Can you adjust the diet to better prepare the rumen environment for a rapid increase in feed consumption? Or enhance the liver’s ability to efficiently process mobilized tissue reserves post-freshening? Incorporating palatable forms of fat and starch energy sources, rumen-protected amino acids and specific antioxidants can help support the cow’s needs during this critical time.

Once the cow freshens, evaluate the ration put in front of it. We often err on the side of caution and tame down the pre-fresh ration hoping to keep the cow on feed. But with a little more attention to ration design and delivery, we can find an effective balance of fiber, starch, sugars, fat and protein sources to encourage intake.

This attention improves the dietary support for higher peak milk while minimizing health issues or causing excessive weight loss. For us, it’s like beginning a rigid exercise program. You will need a well-designed diet with the correct nutrition to support that lifestyle change.

Advisory team opinions

You know your farm best, but collaborating with a trusted advisory team can glean helpful insights and new approaches to reduce transition health events. Work with your nutritionist and advisory team to review herd records and identify fresh cow trends.

Make necessary ration and management adjustments to address the opportunities found. Monitor results over an appropriate time frame and then look for what’s next. Your cows will likely thank you with improved performance results.  end mark

PHOTO: Identify trends and patterns, based on rates or percentages, to show where opportunities exist for transition management changes. Photo courtesy of Purina Animal Nutrition.

For more information, visit Purina Mills - dairy-feed.

References omitted but are available upon request. CLick here to email an editor.

Kevin Dill