How To Predict Herd Risks When Needed Most: The Transition Period

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A cow’s transition period can be a make-or-break moment in her life, with nearly 80% of health events occurring during the transition period. Extra stress on a cow during her dry period can be detrimental to both her health and that of her calf, creating the potential for multigenerational impact. 

But how can you predict these risks during the transition period? Transition cows are often not as closely monitored as the cows moving through the parlor or being monitored for heats. Labor continues to be a challenge and years of training and cowside experience are required for early detection of at-risk cows. Here’s a simple three step breakdown to showcase CowManager’s® innate ability to help your team members predict, prevent and resolve health risks surrounding the transition period. 

1. Leveraging the Nutrition Module to Pinpoint At-Risk Cows Before Calving

The subtle symptoms and responses to transition period stressors can be identified using CowManager’s nutrition module. Transition alerts can pinpoint at-risk cows by identifying underperformers during the dry period and alerting producers to animals that are candidates for postpartum health issues. 

“Cows are reported showing abnormalities in their behavior and feed intake 50 days prior to their due date,” says CowManager Product Manager Peter Hut, DVM. “These cows have a higher risk of becoming sick after calving, with greater than 85% of them becoming exceptionally ill within 30 days after calving.” Early identification of these animals offers farmers more opportunities to leverage preventative therapies and avoid serious health events from impacting herd health, production and ultimately, profitability.

2. Establish Proper Protocols with Preventative Interventions

It is important to understand that the at-risk alert is not an indicator of an actively sick animal. Rather, in the true sense of the term, it is an alert to the potential of trouble down the road. Comparing eating and rumination time of herd mates offers valuable insights. These comparisons can lead farmers to the cows that might require extra monitoring or that should be on a watch list for postpartum health issues. 

You may think you need to do something today with an alert. With transition alerts this is not always the case. Transition alerts aren’t “act now” alerts, but instead should be interpreted as “underperforming, keep an eye on her” alerts. This gives you a predictive preview of which cows may get sick after calving.

3. Use Data to Identify At-Risk Cows

Without the use of technology, identifying a cow that is at risk of a health event is a very time-consuming task. Early identification of cows at risk can save producers time and money. Data identifies symptoms not easily recognizable by a passing human eye. 

Often, health problems in fresh cows are the result of compounding, underlying issues that have gone unnoticed over time. Classic sick-cow identifiers, such as lack of activity or reduced feed intake are easily observable, but understanding why she has gone off feed is critical. 

Cows that eat less before calving and become sick after calving likely had an inflammatory response prior to going into labor. Dr. Hut summarizes three potential reasons for this type of response pattern: inflammation, pain and stress. For each of these reasons, he links possible culprits such as mastitis in the case of inflammation, lameness that causes excess pain and chronic stress from heat or other management factors.

All eyes on the road to recovery

You could compare the at-risk alerts to the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” CowManager is designed to be an extra set of eyes in the herd to deliver valuable data and insights to help farmers make the best decisions for cow health and financial wellbeing. From the moment a cow is identified with her first transition alert, she remains at-risk until after calving. At-risk cows are easily tracked and their treatments can be reviewed; no more monitoring based on lucky guesses and hunches. Farmers can rely on the precise data provided by the nutrition module to know exactly which cow warrants extra attention during the crucial transition period – creating labor efficiencies while improving herd health.

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