The best tool against metritis is prevention. Prevention begins with an eye to observe factors that may reduce the immune response of animals or increase their exposure to bacteria and then doing something about it.
By: Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension
Prevention is what you do to reduce the likelihood of bad things happening. Uterine disease is the bad thing that we want to reduce in this case.
In this 3rd article in a series of four from Michigan State University Extension, having previously discussed causes and detection of uterine disease we discuss your role in prevention.
Prevention in most cases is non-specific because what we do to reduce metritis will also reduce the occurrence of other transition cow diseases, both metabolic and infectious. That is because a large part of reducing metritis is to alleviate the things that compromise immune response of transitioning cows. Therefore, preventing metritis provides a multiplied return to the investment of time and effort.
Prevention begins long before calving when you make decisions that will impact the number of over-conditioned cows at dry-off. Over-conditioned cows are more likely to have significant weight loss after calving and metabolic problems.
- Establish a cut-off in breeding attempts after a certain day in milk to avoid long lactation cows that are more likely to become over-conditioned.
- Evaluate and record the body condition score (BCS) of cows at dry and heifers at 60 days prior to calving date to monitor.
- Talk with your veterinarian about the BCS that you should use as a target for dry cows and communicate that to your nutritionist (one veterinarian I spoke with likes to see dry cows at a 3.0 BCS).
Research has shown that close-up dry cows with lower feed intake are at a higher risk of disease during the transition period. Lower feed intake increases the degree of negative energy balance and decreases the nutrition of the cow in critical nutrients.
Lower feed intake is ultimately a difference in feeding behavior. Von Keyerlingk and Weary at the University of British Columbia found that cows later diagnosed with metritis/acute metritis spent less time eating both pre-calving (beginning 3 weeks prior to calving) and post-calving compared to healthy cows. They also went to the feed bunk less during times of greatest competition, such as when feed is fed or pushed up.
Reduced feed intake may be something we are causing. Overcrowding creates competition and reduces opportunity for all individuals in the pen. Frequent pen changes or pen additions create stress for individuals in the pen. Each of these will reduce dry matter and nutrient intake, setting the cow up for poor immune response.
- Manage dry cow facilities so that there is no overcrowding in the close-up pen: minimum of 1 stall per cow or 125-150 sq. ft. per cow on a bedded pack.
- Ensure that close-up dry cows have a minimum of 30 inches of feed bunk space per cow.
- Reduce pen moves in the transition period and reduce the number of times new animals are introduced to the groups.
- Manage cow comfort in the close-up pen with good ventilation and air movement to reduce heat stress and improve air quality.
- Work with your nutritionist to ensure adequate intake of nutrients and the rations that reduce the incidence of hypocalcemia, ketosis, displaced abomasum and retained placenta. Monitor the incidence of those problems post-calving and set goals.
- If possible, separate springing heifers from close-up dry cows. This is especially indicated if fresh heifer metritis is higher than that in cows.
Controlling hypocalcemia deserves special attention because cows with subclinical hypocalcemia in the first 3 days postpartum had a 3-fold greater risk of developing metritis (N. Martinez et al. Univ. of Fla.). The impacts of hypocalcemia on the animal includes reduced killing action of invading bacteria by neutrophils and increased cortisol leading to reduced immune response. Manage hypocalcemia with dry cow dietary calcium restriction, dietary acidification using anionic salts and dietary magnesium supplementation where appropriate. In addition, work with your veterinarian on a protocol for calcium supplementation after calving.
Cleanliness of the calving area is critically important. The exposure to bacteria of both the cow and the calf in the calving environment will affect the health of both.
- Reduce the percentage of calvings in free stalls to less than 2%.
- If calving in a group pack pen, allow a minimum of 175-200 sq. ft per cow.
- Clean and bed the calving pen frequently so that when you kneel in it, your knees are not wet.
Personnel assisting with calving can be a positive factor because calving problems increase metritis significantly. However, unless calving assistance is done well and sanitarily, it can have a negative effect. It is important to develop a calving assistance protocols with your veterinarian and train employees on calving assistance. Practice the highest standards of sanitation in regard to personal preparation, equipment preparation and cow preparation.
Post-calving we need to continue to encourage feed intake and monitor fresh cows.
- Fresh cow pen with a minimum of 1 stall per cow and a minimum of 24 inches of feed bunk space per cow.
- Mark fresh cows in pens that are not exclusively fresh cows for easy observation.
- Cows with metritis are more likely to develop endometritis. Develop a protocol with your veterinarian to monitor and intervene on these animals.
The incidence of metritis and endomeritis are farm specific and reducing them will require that farmers and their employees better understand the risks on to their herd and then reduce those risks.
Metritis is an indicator of poor transition management. Schedule time with your veterinarian, nutritionist and Extension Educator to do a management audit of the transition cow program as a proactive approach. Look for potential problems and take improvement steps to reduce the likelihood of experiencing problems.
New advances in dairy science may provide tools for helping to prevent metritis or reduce the severity of it. The development of a metritis vaccine holds great promise. In addition, using the genetics of high immune responding bulls may also be a great tool. However, those or other tools will never replace the need for doing a great job of managing transition cows and freshening heifers on the farm. Commit to that.
Other articles in this series: