Put Priority on Pre-Fresh Cows

04:35PM Jan 24, 2020
Holstein Cow Pasture Grazing
A Holstein cow grazing out on pasture.
( Taylor Leach )

Producers often set their focus on the areas of the farm that are making them money. One grey area that could be getting overlooked just might be your pre-fresh cows. When taken care of properly, healthy pre-fresh animals can boost the bottom line when they enter the milking herd. Mis-managed pre-fresh animals, however, not only tend to cost money after calving, but can also cause added headaches and frustration.

During the 2020 Leading Dairy Producers Conference, Rachel Kenneke and Sabrina Yanke of Quality Liquid Feeds provided three tips to help get pre-fresh animals off to a good start.

Feed management

“The first thing I like to do when visiting farms is put up time-lapse cameras near the pre-fresh and post-fresh feed bunks that take a picture every 10 to 20 seconds,” Kenneke says. “I really want to see what is going on between 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. when there are not as many people at the farm.”

During the day it is easy to notice when feed bunks need to be pushed up. Late throughout the night and into the early morning hours, however, feed may not get pushed up as frequently leaving animals without anything to eat.

“At a lot of the farms I go to I ask, ‘How tight are you on your bunks? Could cows ever run out of feed?’” Kenneke says. “Everybody always tells me no, but when we put up the cameras for five to seven days, sometimes you see things that are really eye opening.”

Specialized nutrition

When looking over pre-fresh diets, Yanke recommends making sure TMR is well mixed and consistent throughout the batch. She also suggests feeding pre-fresh animals a dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diet to help improve an animal’s calcium levels after calving.

“Feeding a DCAD diet is going to add specific minerals into the pre-fresh diet so we achieve metabolic acidity to increase the overall blood calcium level post-calving,” Yanke says. “That calcium is so important not only for milk production, but it also helps with dry matter intake, rumination, defecation, urination and the overall metabolic status, musculoskeletal system and their immune function. So, feeding a specialized diet to these pre-fresh animals is something that we want to make sure to focus on to help the animal’s overall health.”

Yanke suggests also testing small samples of your pre-fresh TMR to make sure that the diet looks the same on paper as it does in the feed bunks.

Metabolic metrics

After calving, fresh animals are prone to a slew of metabolic health problems. To help ward of these costly diseases, Kenneke suggests monitoring pre-fresh dry matter intake as well as testing urine pH and ketones after calving.

Checking the urine pH of pre-fresh animals can help indicate when variations in the diet occurs, also known as DCAD drift. 

“When testing urine pH, you want to be consistent with it,” Kenneke says. “Pick a time that is doable for you and stick with that time. It’s also important to make sure you have a good sample size. Don’t just sample two cows, test 10 or more animals so that you have a better understanding of your average.”

According to Kenneke, it is important to also monitor the prevalence of ketosis in post-fresh animals. High incidences of this metabolic disease may indicate an imbalance in the diet.

“If you’re testing for ketosis, you want to test when the animal is at approximately 14 days in milk,” Kenneke says. “It’s also important to test a good sample size for ketosis, usually about 12 animals. The industry standard classification for ketosis is that if it is less than 1.1 pH, they’re normal. At 1.2 to 2.9, the are in the subclinical range and anything above that 3.0 range is clinical.”