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Review: Fresh Cow Workshops

The Wynnstay Fresh Cow Workshops were held w/c 6th March in Carmarthen, Ledbury, Shifnal and Shrewsbury.

There were four speakers: Dr Jeff Weyers from Zinpro, Dr Mike Wolf from VES in the States, Mike Chown from UFAC and John Cook from Elanco.

It was great to see Wynnstay’s Fresh Cow Workshops so well attended at all of the locations. The guest speakers kept the topics interesting and engaging. Because of the strong attendance, we split into 4 – 5 different groups. This allowed for a more interactive experience.

There were a wide range of issues covered such, as transition management, protocols for fresh cow care, cow comfort and lighting and also how we can use milk samples to monitor energy balance and rumen efficiency in fresh cows.

It was great to see farmers getting involved in the conversation and putting forward the issues that they faced with their own herds. The speakers were then able to respond and offer advice and suggestions that were practical and achievable.


Transition Cow - Dr Jeff Weyers, Zinpro

Dr Jeff Weyers discussed management of the transition cow and the importance of her environment and how attention to detail would result in less problems post-calving.

Body condition was a good indicator of good cow management, a score of 3 – 3.2 was what to aim for. Recording this data, although seen by some farmers as time consuming, would pay off as it could help identify trends or issues early and allow you to make adjustments if required.

Dietary Cation Anion Difference (DCAD) diets were recommended as the number one way of controlling milk fever. However, he stressed the importance of regularly monitoring urine pH of dry cows. There were many variables in the dry cow period which could affect the balance of a DCAD program. He said without this attention to detail you ran the risk of walking blindly into problems.

Dr Weyers explained why it was so important for dry and fresh cows to never be without feed, but this was something he saw regularly on farm. Close up cows' intakes plummet two days before calving; if she comes up to feed and there is no food we have missed that window and that may be her last meal before she calves. Regular push ups (every two hours) and clearing away old food would help encourage intakes in the fresh cow and help prevent metabolic issues from occurring.

Maintenance of feeder wagons and feeding protocols for dry and fresh cows was also touched on. He was amazed at the number of farms he visited where equipment was poorly maintained. This resulted in poorly mixed diets, affecting the balance of a carefully formulated diet and having massive effects on cow performance.

Over-mixing a ration was a concern for all farmers, but Dr Weyers suggested, based on his research, it was extremely difficult to over-mix a ration to the point it starts separating the ingredients. For him the biggest issue he saw was more to do with under-mixing rations!


Cubicle Design and Lighting - Dr Mike Wolf, DVM

Dr Wolf, from Wisconsin, talked about the effects of cubicle design and its influence on affecting animal performance.

All farms visited had deep sand cubicles, as well as one farm using air beds, which were incredibly comfy. The main focus was making sure cows had cubicles which they felt comfortable and confident using.

Lunging space was a big issue that the Dr commented on. Encouraging forward lunging rather than sideways lunging would lead to less injuries in cubicles e.g. cows getting stuck, hurting their back and hock abrasions. It would also allow for cleaner beds as muck would end up in the passageway rather than in the bedding.

He stressed the need for adequate clearance from the head rail, correct brisket locator positioning as well as plenty of room in front and nothing blocking their forward vision which could prevent them from lunging forward.

Lighting was also discussed. If everything else is right e.g. feed space, cubicle design, then lighting would be the next step to increasing the potential of your animals.

The correct lighting and period of lighting could encourage higher intakes that would reflect summer grazing times – cows would be eating for longer periods of time.

On the other end of the scale dry cow sheds should be used to minimise daylight hours to encourage longer resting time in the bed area.


Metabolic Issues - John Cook, Elanco

John Cook, emphasised the negative impact metabolic disease could have for animals' performance.

Having protocols in place which were practical, easy to perform and which all staff could be trained to carry out, would reduce the impact of metabolic diseases.

Monitoring blood ketone levels in the first three weeks was, in his opinion, the most effective way to do this.

Retraining cows to consume 4% of their bodyweight in DM three weeks post-calving was a good indicator of how that cow would perform in terms of yield and fertility for the rest of her lactation.

Early detection and treatment of metabolic issues, alongside providing a stress free, clean, comfortable environment would help achieve this.

Elanco, also emphasised the benefits of using its Kexxtone boluses for high risk cows in the dry period as well as using a new product, IMRESTOR, which helps restore immune function in fresh calved animals.


Herd Performance - Dr Huw McConochie, Wynnstay

Wynnstay’s Dr Huw McConochie presented farmers with ideas on how to improve herd averages, in terms of litres per lactation.

Concentrating on heifer rearing and having quality control points within the rearing system would identify animals not to breed from.

Poor performing heifers were likely to drag down herd averages as these animals had an increased risk of problems at calving and would cost money. If they get back in calf, they are more than likely to underperform and cost more money in the next lactation, leaving behind calves that could cause similar issues.

Poor performing heifers were often a result of mistakes made in the rearing system, such as colostrum intake, inadequate housing or other environmental challenges.
It was suggested that if you wanted to make changes to your herd performance then you had to make clear-cut decisions during the rearing period, based on information that you have gathered over that animal's life e.g. growth weights and incidents of illness/ disease. Over a period of time this will help reduce the number of problem animals in the herd which cost money and effect your herd averages. It will also help identify changes that need to be made in the rearing system and the cost that it is having every year.


Milk Analysis - Mike Chown, UFAC

Mike Chown, from UFAC, demonstrated to farmers that simple milk analysis of Volatile Fatty Acids (VFAs) can be a useful tool in assessing rumen function and energy balance in freshly calved animals.

This could be used to identify areas in the diet or management system that could be improved or monitored to avoid metabolic issues.

Regularly monitoring VFAs in milk is especially beneficial for herds which are being pushed or need to achieve high levels of fat and protein in milk quality, as the ratio of VFAs in the milk will identify if the rumen is functioning effectively and give early detection of any imbalances.


Fresh cow workshops in summary

Feedback from the farmers was really positive and many felt it had helped with issues they were experiencing at home. This was great to hear; the targets have been set for farms, which the Dairy Technical Team can help each farm achieve.

Dr Jeff Weyers commented if you can monitor your own performance and gather information to identify where improvements can be made then this will pay off in the long term.

If you would like any further information or would like a visit from one of Wynnstay’s Dairy Technical Team to discuss any of the above for your own farm, then please contact one of the team.


Alasdair Taylor
Dairy Specialist


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