Minimising health issues in your herd

DairyNZ’s development team outlines systems to make life easier for you and your staff and set your herd up for the season ahead

Identify at-risk cows


It’s important to have animal health measures in place before calving. One thing that can make a big difference is ensuring any at-risk animals are clearly identified so they can receive priority treatment.

Have regular team catch-ups and use a whiteboard to record information about cows being treated. Also, set up an overall animal health management programme with your vet and consider the prevention, monitoring, and treatment of:

  • metabolic disorders, such as milk fever and ketosis, 
  • infectious diseases, including metritis and mastitis, 
  • lameness, and 
  • calves (make regular health checks).

Hit body condition score (BSC) targets

BCS targets at calving are set to optimise milk production and maximise reproduction and health. Mixed-age cows should calve at 5.0, while two- and three-year-olds should calve at 5.5.

Cows thinner than target BCS have poor immune function and greater risk of infectious diseases. They also produce less milk and have poorer reproductive performance.

In contrast, cows fatter than target BCS will have reduced dry matter intake and greater BCS loss post-calving, predisposing them to metabolic disorders. The most common metabolic disorders occurring during the calving period in pasture-based systems are milk fever and ketosis with incidences of fatty liver.

The occurrence of one disorder can increase the risk of another and predispose the cow to infectious diseases. The risk of metabolic disorders is greater if these fatter cows are eating more than their metabolisable energy (ME) requirements in the two to three weeks prior to calving.

Manage transition

We recommend farmers put a well-thought-out management plan in place to ensure cows have a successful transition from pregnancy to the milking herd. The plan should include the following:

Feeding level 

Cows at or above BCS target should be fed 90% of their ME requirements. Cows below BCS targets should be fed 100% of their ME requirements.

Mineral supplementation

Magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium all play a role in preventing metabolic disorders such as milk fever. Learn more about using these minerals at dairynz.co.nz/nutrition.

Make a treatment plan

Even with the best-laid plans, metabolic disorders and downer cows can still occur. Wet or frosty weather increases the occurrence of downer cows, and older cows are more at risk. These cows require immediate treatment and every farm should have a treatment protocol in place.

A veterinarian should be involved in setting up your treatment plan to ensure cows are treated with the correct products in a timely and efficient manner, reducing the impact and occurrence of disorders.

Your treatment plan should also include other management factors, such as providing ample water and feed and using correct lifting techniques. You could also consider once-a-day milking for sick or lame cows during the colostrum period, as it reduces energy output, calcium demand, and walking distances.

Involve the team

Good people, those with the right attitude and skills, can be the difference between a crazy spring and a manageable one. So, focus on your team and you’ll reap the benefits.

Keeping everyone involved provides an opportunity to deal with minor frustrations quickly before they affect morale and productivity. Identify any knowledge gaps so staff are up to speed, know what to expect, and can contribute right from the start.

Lastly, Kiwis are not great at taking time to reward good work, but it costs nothing to acknowledge a job well done. This simple action can dramatically improve staff performance, which is vital for a successful spring. 

Key points

  • Identify at-risk cows so they can receive priority treatment. 
  • Have a management plan in place to transition calving cows into the milking herd. 
  • Discuss a farm-specific animal health plan with your veterinarian.

Visit dairynz.co.nz for more information on mastitis, transition cows, pasture management, the effect of nutrition on fertility, and caring for calves.

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