|Todd Birkle, DVM
Transitioning to the fresh pen indicates a significant life event for a dairy cow. Consider, for example, the demands of a fresh cow, which often include delivering a calf, supplying antibodies to her newborn through colostrum, switching to a high-energy ration and entering the milking string almost immediately—all create considerable challenges. Not to mention, the additional disease obstacles that can hinder a successful lactation, including metritis.
More disorders and veterinary costs are associated with the postpartum period than any other. Clinical metritis can cause a cascade of serious economic problems for any dairy operation, including direct losses associated with increased treatment costs, discarded milk, increased culling and even death risk. Indirect losses are experienced through reduced reproductive efficiency and other fresh cow diseases like ketosis, displaced abomasums or mastitis.
Risk factors you should know and identify
Identifying the common risk factors that lead to metritis early on is crucial to determining and administering timely treatment to avoid the costly effects that occur late in the course of disease. Any one of these scenarios—an abnormal calving defined by dystocia (difficult calving), twinning, stillbirth, a retained fetal membrane or a decrease in voluntary dry matter intake—predisposes the animal to the development of clinical metritis.
Cows that experience dystocia are 2.1 times more likely to develop metritis, while those experiencing a retained fetal membrane after calving are 6 times more likely.1 In the rare case of twinning, cows are 10.5 times more likely to have difficulty with calving (dystocia) and 3.4 times more likely to have a retained placenta, indirectly linking to metritis. Cows that experience stillbirths at calving are 2.6 times more likely to develop a retained placenta. Stillbirths are also directly linked to development of metritis with a likelihood of 1.5 times more than those cows that experience a normal calving.1 Also, any interference with normal dry matter intake during the transition phase can affect immune function, start-up milk in the fresh period, postpartum feed intake and also creates a risk for ketosis.2 Cows that experience ketosis are 1.7 times more likely to develop metritis.3
Specialized management for at-risk cows
Producers can avert the complications of metritis and fresh cow diseases by maximizing pre- and postpartum health management to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. Focusing on nutritional needs during the transition period can maximize production in the fresh period. Uterine infections are preceded by negative energy balances prior to calving and extend into early lactation.4 Increasing dry matter intake before and after calving can minimize metabolic disorders and weight loss, as well as improve reproductive performance. Providing clean, well-designed calving facilities reduces risk of infection, while minimizing cow movements post-calving minimizes stress. With every pen move, cows are disrupted socially and it takes two to five days to re-establish their social rank.5
Efficient calving and fresh pen management includes monitoring for the risk factors for metritis in addition to checking for symptoms of other fresh cow diseases. Fresh cow monitoring includes:
- Evaluating for labored breathing, little or no appetite and depression
- Evaluating uterine discharge and odor
- Checking for cold, clammy ears, sunken eyes and nasal discharge
- Evaluating manure quality
- Evaluating temperature
- Checking udder fill
While avoiding the hospital pen during the fresh period is the ultimate goal, it’s not always realistic. Treating sick cows effectively and economically with antibiotics is key. Producers must implement treatment protocols in the context of a working relationship with a veterinarian. This ensures that the best treatment course is decided upon and compliance is adhered to.
1 Correa MT, Erb H, Scarlett J. Path analysis for seven postpartum disorders of Holstein cows. J Dairy Sci 1993;76:1305-1312.
2 Overton MW. Principles of transition cow management. Presented at Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Symposium; 2009; Sioux Falls, SD.
3 Correa MT, Erb H, Scarlett J. Path analysis for seven postpartum disorders of Holstein cows. J Dairy Sci 1993;76:1305-1312.
4Hammon D, Goff JP. Immune function and energy status in Holstein cows with uterine infections. Pfizer Animal Health and USDA National Animal Disease Center. Mid-South Ruminant Nutrition Conference 2006:29-36.
5 Boe KE, Faerevik G. Grouping and social preferences in calves, heifers and cows. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2003;80:175-190.
—Todd Birkle, DVM, fresh cow reproductive manager with Pfizer Animal Health
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