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Transition Cow Checklist: Enhanced Management and Dairy Cattle Nutrition Strategies

5 minute read

The transition period is a high-risk time in a dairy cow’s life. Poor management strategies during this period, which extends from about three weeks prior to calving until approximately three weeks post-calving, can negatively impact lactation performance and cow reproductive success, increase the incidence of lameness, and ultimately lead to premature culling.

It is well documented that the transition period is associated with depression of immune function in the dairy cow. A drop in feed intake, which can be as high as 25 percent, together with environmental, social and feed related stressors can further compound the problem.

Transition cow checklist

The following management tips are designed to help nutritionists, consultants and dairy producers improve the management of cows during the transition period.

Close-up period

  • Monitor dry matter intakes. This is one of the most often overlooked management strategies, yet it’s a simple way to monitor changes in the cow’s performance and is a good early indicator of potential problems.
  • Clean out feed bunks daily to remove spoiled or heated feed that can depress the cow’s appetite.
  • Stock pens at less than 100 percent capacity to avoid overcrowding and allow adequate bunk space for each cow. Provide approximately 30 inches (76 cm) of bunk space per animal or, in pens with lock-ups spaced at 24 inches (61 cm), populate the pen at 80 to 85 percent of the number of lock-ups.
  • Avoid pen moves when possible, especially during the 10 days prior to calving. Cows should spend at least 14 days in the close-up pen.
  • Ensure that the transition facilities are designed to accommodate 20 percent more calvings than would be expected during the busiest 8-week period. This will ensure that the transition cows requirements are met all year round.
  • If pen changes are needed, move cows once a week in groups of 10 or more to reduce stress associated with social disruption.
  • Implement heat stress abatement strategies by providing adequate shade, water (for drinking and cooling) and air movement.
  • Do not comingle heifers with older cows in order to avoid dominant behavior toward the heifers and to ensure the heifer ration meets their dietary needs.
  • Monitor close-up pens approximately once every hour around the clock, and move cows displaying signs of active labor to the maternity pen.
  • Maintain a clean, dry environment. Environmental stress increases metabolic needs while decreasing feeding intake. This is in turn increases the risk of mastitis in cows housed in the fresh pen.

Maternity Pen

  • If maternity pens are used, strive to move cows only at impending parturition, i.e., feet showing or other obvious signs of active labor. Moving cows during early parts of stage 1 labor may result in an increased risk of stillbirth. Animals should spend less than 12 hours in a calving pen.
  • Make sure the pens are clean and dry for optimum cow comfort. Pens should be bedded with clean, dry material and changed frequently.
  • Walk maternity pens every hour to monitor those cows in the process of calving.
  • Remove newly born calves from the pens as soon as possible and provide the fresh cow with clean water and fresh TMR.

Fresh Cow Monitoring and Treatment

  • Observe fresh cows for signs of illness to ensure prompt treatment.
  • Monitor feed intake as this can be a predictor of fresh cow performance.
  • Inspect fresh cows to identify early signs of foot issues. Fresh cows are at an increased risk for lameness, which can be compounded by events in the prefresh period.
  • Implement heat stress abatement strategies by providing adequate shade, water (for drinking and cooling) and air movement.
  • Minimize environmental and social stressors by limiting pen changes, maintaining low pen density levels and providing easy access to fresh water and feed.
  • Use 4-week milks and record the incidence of transition diseases in order to monitor the success of your transition program.

Performance trace minerals for transition cows

In addition to the management strategies noted above, a successful dairy cow transition program includes optimal trace mineral nutrition. Feeding performance trace minerals in the dry and prepartum periods and continuing through lactation is critical for improving overall animal wellness, which can improve cow reproduction and fertility, maintain claw integrity and increase milk production and milk quality of dairy cows in the subsequent lactation.

Numerous peer-reviewed research studies have demonstrated that supplementing dairy cattle diets with performance trace minerals from Zinpro can help improve lactation success through the following benefits:

  • Improved reproductive performance
  • Minimized effect of metabolic disorders on fertility
  • Decreased somatic cell count
  • Improved claw integrity

In addition, research shows that calves born from dams supplemented with the unique, proprietary form of performance trace minerals available from Zinpro, benefit from the improvement in trace mineral status as demonstrated by lower rectal temperatures at birth and faster growth rates.  This may be due to nutrition in utero along with improved IgG content in colostrum from the dams.

Including trace minerals from Zinpro Performance Minerals® with the management strategies noted above leads to improved early lactation performance, decreased risk of premature culling and improved reproductive success, helping your dairy operation achieve its animal performance and profitability goals.

Content adapted from the Transition Management Checklist.

Contact your Zinpro representative for additional insights on effective transition cow management strategies and learn more about how Zinpro Performance Minerals can help improve lactation performance, decrease risk of premature culling and improve reproductive success.