Ask What Changed when You’re Troubleshooting Problems
Jul 29, 2013
A CSI-like investigation -- not a knee-jerk reaction -- led us to find a herd-health culprit in the commodity barn.
A string of displaced abomasums in fresh cows, all within a couple of days, prompted a recent call from a client. "We need to change the ration" was the initial response to this crisis.
Well, we had been feeding the same close-up and fresh ration for quite a while, long before the DA’s occurred. That hadn’t changed, so why would it be the cause of these recent digestive problems?
If you’re a nutritionist reading this, you’re probably familiar with this situation.
Troubleshooting an issue like this can be kind of like investigating a CSI case. You have to look at all the evidence before you hopefully find the culprit. Sometimes you never do. Sometimes the problems go away without ever pinpointing the exact cause.
But the first question we need to ask is, "What has changed?" The ration on paper didn’t change.
1. Was there a mixing error or a substitute feeder?
2. Did we have a forage change?
3. Did we change, run out of or substitute an ingredient?
4. Was moldy feed fed?
5. Were the bunks dirty?
6. Were the pens overcrowded?
7. Was there a big weather change?
Obviously, there are many other issues that could contribute to a problem like this. Every dairy is different. But a knee-jerk reaction probably won’t solve the problem.
Back to my client. In my experience, inadequate fiber is rarely the cause of early lactation DA’s. It’s usually the result of something that caused the animals to go off feed, even for a day. Cyclical feed intake caused by subclinical milk fevers or metritis often ends in a DA. Or it may be one or more of the things I listed above.
In our case, we found the potential culprit in the commodity barn. After several days of high rainfall and hot humid weather, the whole cottonseed in the back of the commodity barn had gotten wet. There was a pile of moldy, maggot-infested cottonseed behind the fresh stuff and it had been fed for at least a couple of days. This affected all the cows in the herd, but especially fresh cows. It took a couple of days after the cottonseed was tossed out until things got back to normal.
If we had changed the ration, without looking any further, the DA’s would have eventually gone away after the nasty cottonseed was fed up. But we would have convicted the wrong culprit.