July 23, 2024

Cow comfort impacts disease prevention during transition phase

SANDUSKY, Mich. — Dairymen can take steps to minimize diseases during the transition phase of their cows.

“Research shows space and rest are huge,” said Mark Fox, veterinarian at Thumb Veterinary Services in Sandusky, Michigan.

“As a dairy vet for about four decades, I’ve always had an interest in cow comfort,” said Fox during a webinar hosted by Hoards’s Dairyman.

“If we can bring the six freedoms of pasture into our confinement dairy housing, we can make the life of the cow and the farmer much better,” he said. “Those six freedoms are air, light, water, feed, rest and space.”

Hendrik Eggink has a four-row pre-fresh barn on his DeLuur Farm in Michigan.

“It has lots of fans and curtains on the side to manage the air flow,” Eggink said. “A four-row barn will create a lot less stale air than a six-row barn.”

The head-to-head stalls are 54-inches wide on one side of the barn for the cows and 40-inches wide on the other side for heifers.

“The stalls are 8-foot long so they are spacious,” Eggink said.

“Cows want to stretch out with their legs going every which way so they deserve a lot of space,” Fox said. “The more space we can provide for them, the better.”

There is about 300 feet of feed alley in Eggink’s barn.

“That’s almost 3 feet per cow for bunk space so there’s no competition,” Eggink said. “If we can get the pre- and post-fresh phases right, we will have a lot less trouble down the road.”

“Our cows are aged oftentimes by what we do as managers more so than the biological nature of the cow,” Fox said. “Diseases that are present in most of our cows tend to be related to hindrances.”

For the ration, Eggink said, water is added through the beet pulp to minimize sorting.

“We chop the straw as fine as we can,” he said.

“With high straw diets, you can’t get the straw too fine,” Fox said. “When the cows are able to sort a diet, their feeding behavior changes at the feed fence, so the more you can make every mouthful exactly the same is really important.”

The TMR for the transition diets at 40% to 42% dry matter is wetter than some dairymen have historically fed, Fox said.

“But it does a great job of promoting palatability and the inability to sort,” he said.

The LED lights in the pre-fresh barn provide lots of light and Eggink chose five-blade fans because they are quiet.

“That barn is super relaxed and so peaceful,” Eggink said. “The gates are really easy to swing and super quiet so the cows hardly know you’re walking through.”

Cows are moved into the pre-fresh pen 16 to 24 days before calving and heifers are moved 28 to 35 days prior to calving.

“We try to minimize getting them in there too close to calving,” Eggink said. “The barn was built with the calving peak in mind so nine months out of the year the stalls won’t be 100% full.”

The foot baths in the barn are 12-feet long and narrow to get multiple dips.

“The easier you can make something the more you can expect it to get done so there is a hydrant by the foot baths to make it easy to fill them,” Eggink said.

“The cows are away from the foot baths six to eight weeks during the dry cow period so it’s critical in this barn,” he said. “Sometimes when there is really cold weather we skip the foot baths and it shows up right away so the foot baths are a vital part of the barn for foot health.”

“Lameness in any cow is a terrible disease, but lameness during the dry period is almost a death sentence when they become fresh,” Fox said.

The barn features large calving pens that are bedded with straw.

“Calves exit the sterile environment they’ve been in for nine months so a lot of straw is much cheaper than medication and vaccinations,” Fox said.

Close to the calving pen is a headlock.

“All the cows get milked to harvest the colostrum and it is designed so one person can do it,” Eggink said. “There is hot water available there and vacuum lines to clean the bucket milker after each cow is milked.”

Cows are moved into a postpartum rest pen.

“Our parlor is a quarter mile away so we transport cows twice a day from this pen,” Eggink said. “And if there is an animal that is not quite ready, we can leave her there overnight. Rest is everything for the first 24 hours after calving.”

Newborn calves are transferred to the nursery.

“This is a drying area for the calves that is really clean,” Fox said. “It is important to pay attention to ventilation in this area because moisture and air can be a problem since water gives bacteria wheels.”

The next stop for the calves is the pre-school which features individual cubicles.

“We bottle feed all our calves so as soon as they can drink out of a bottle we move the calves to hutches,” Eggink said.

The dairyman uses CowManager for fresh cow management.

“It is a great tool and it works well for us,” Eggink said. “I can put protocols to it and that makes it easier to train people to become herdsmen.”

“These systems work because it discontinues unnecessary screening at the rail,” Fox said. “The metrics for postpartum diseases are crazy costly at about $300 for a single event and that is additive for more than one event, so the bill builds fast.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor