Animal Health

The most wonderful time of the year

By Gemma Chuck

AS THE festive season approaches, many herds with seasonal or split calving patterns are commencing drying off cows for the onset of the autumn calving period. This article discusses preparation during the pre-calving period.

Although many dairy farmers are very experienced with the procedure of drying off cows, it is worthwhile to have a review at least once annually.

This is particularly important if there are new staff or different facilities from the previous dry-off period.

Dairy veterinarians can offer this service and will often review the protocols leading up to and after drying off, as well as the technique of administering dry cow therapy.

In herds where blanket dry cow treatment is not used, vets can assist with interpreting herd test or milk meter data, to identify cows requiring selective treatment.

Pre-ordering specific dry cow therapy and teat sealant allows delivery of these products in a timely manner.

The drying-off consult is also an opportunity to review the number of cases of clinical mastitis in freshly calved heifers and cows and to determine if the use of a teat sealant would be beneficial.

This will vary on a herd-by-herd basis but relies on accurate records from the previous calving period.

The management of cows with repeat cases of mastitis, 3-titter cows and cows with chronically high cell counts should also be discussed with your veterinarian, to develop a plan for these cases in advance of the calving period.

Some vaccines must be given at drying off to ensure that peak-effect coincides with colostrum production.

These ‘colostral vaccines’ are recommended on a farm-by-farm basis and are generally used for the control of calf scour pathogens.

A primary course usually involves two vaccines given a specified period apart prior to expected calving.

Annual boosters are often required but remember that new heifers calving for the first time and bought-in cows will need the primary course and this should be planned for in advance. Pre-ordering of colostral vaccines will ensure that adequate stock is available when you require it.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to plan your transition cow ration, in conjunction with your nutritionist or veterinarian.

A review of records will help identify if the previous transition cow ration was successful.

It is important to monitor how a transition cow ration is performing during the calving period to identify any issues as early as possible.

After drying-off, take stock of any drugs used in cows and calves on the farm. It is not recommended to use out-of-date products and these should be safely discarded.

Discuss with your veterinarian which drugs will be needed on-hand for cows and calves. A review of drug selection, dosage and administration is recommended.

Re-stock appropriate sized needles and syringes for cows and calves, along with a secure sharps-container for safe disposal of used needles.

Specific treatment protocols are beneficial for common problems in cows and calves and should be discussed with your veterinarian prior to calving.

Treatment protocols help all staff recognise common diseases and how to select an appropriate treatment.

Ensure all staff are adequately trained in recognising the stages of labour, when a cow needs assistance and how to assist

It is a good idea to have everything required for an assisted calving in a convenient location next to the crush.

Equipment used to deal with new-born calves should also be checked and re-stocked as necessary.

Adequate preparation and the right planning can pave the way for a successful calving period. It really can be the most wonderful time of the year!

• Dr Gemma Chuck is a veterinary adviser at Apiam Animal Health.