Animal Health

Transition cow management checklist

By Dairy News Australia

About 80 per cent of all cow health problems occur within four weeks of calving.

Gippsland dairy farmers Mike and Sarah O’Brien have developed a transition feeding program to reduce the stress associated with cow health problems like milk fever.

Their business is one of several case studies that will be focused on during Dairy Australia’s new Transition Cow Management online program, currently being offered through regional extension programs. Contact your region's organisation to find out more.

Dairy Australia says you don’t have to change your farm business, production objectives, feeding system or grain/concentrate feeding rate to improve your transition cow management.

There are transition feeding options suitable for all feeding systems.

Use this checklist to help you implement the key steps for a successful transition period.

● Feed the transition diet for as close to 21 days as possible.

This relies on accurate calving dates. Early pregnancy testing of all cows and heifers by a skilled operator between five and 15 weeks of gestation will enable this.

● Sourcing and testing forage.

Obtain a single consignment of forage from one source if possible. Test forage with both a standard feed test and wet chemistry mineral analysis. Test pasture if it will comprise more than 2kg DM/cow/day in the transition diet.

● Balancing the diet.

Work with a nutrition adviser or use the Transition Diet Milk Fever Risk Calculator to adjust feeding levels to meet energy and protein requirements and manage milk fever risk.

If feeding a concentrate designed for milkers, check that it doesn’t contain bicarbonate as a buffer.

Do you plan on using a commercial lead feed pellet, DIY anionic salts (for example, mag chloride) or something else? Use the same concentrate type as you will use after calving (for example, grain or pellets).

● Choosing springer paddocks.

Choose paddocks that have not been irrigated with effluent or received heavy applications of potassium fertilisers. Rotating calving paddocks is good practice to avoid nutrient loading.

Repair leaking troughs, boggy gateways and restrict access to dams to manage mastitis risk. Also scrape or wash down feed pad regularly (if applicable).

Calculate daily pasture mass and strip graze to manage intakes, especially if it will comprise more than 2kg DM/cow/day in the transition diet.

If applicable, ensure you have enough trough space (at least 75cm per cow) and/or hay rings (at least one per 20 cows) to ensure all cows and heifers have equal access to the transition diet.

Use a mineral dispenser if putting DIY salts (for example, mag chloride) in water troughs. These are available from most rural stores. Calibrate regularly according to manufacturer’s directions.

● Staff.

Ensure staff have been adequately trained in their required tasks and simple, written standard operating procedures (SOPs) are available to them.

● Feeding out.

Ensure you’ve made realistic allowances for wastage (may be up to 35 per cent when fed on bare ground).

Start milking cows and heifers early if they have udder oedema or are running milk.

If feeding concentrates through the dairy — check and calibrate feed systems regularly. Observe for mastitis and apply teat disinfectant to all surfaces of teats daily.

● Monitor the success of your program.

Use the Cow Health Problems at Calving Tally Sheet or existing herd recording system to monitor cow health.

Use the Transition Program Review Worksheet to assess how well the program worked and plan any changes.

For more information on transition cow management, visit: