By Rod Martin
It’s been a hot week throughout the Midwest and it looks like temperatures will remain high for the next few days. Plus, it’s probably a safe bet that this won’t be the last heat wave of the summer.
With that in mind, don’t forget about your transition cows. Hot weather brings about many risk factors that could negatively impact these animals. Here are a few things to be aware of:
Due to the heat stress issues last summer, cows finally conceived in the cooler fall months. This means we will see heavy calving periods in the hotter summer months. Overcrowding is a major risk factor for transition and fresh cow problems.
Multiple pen moves
Due to heavy calving periods, you may have to make more pen moves, which will most likely result in less-than-optimal days in the pre-fresh/fresh cow group. Excessive movements add a lot of stress for the cow during a time that already demands a lot of her energy.
Major heat stress
Extreme heat will lower overall intakes, increasing risk for metabolic issues. Heat stress may also result in cows calving earlier. Cows may calve one to three weeks prior to the projected calving date. This will increase chances for the retained placentas and metritis.
Bunk management issues
During hot weather, feed can become unstable very quickly and heat up, resulting in reduced dry matter intakes. Feed more often and add Bunklife to keep feed fresh and intakes as high as possible. Again, reduced feed intake is a major risk factor for transition and fresh cow problems.
This is an area that can be easily overlooked on many dairy operations, but it’s important to make sure you have enough people in place to deal with the added problems that can result from heat stress. Do you have extra labor on hand to deal with the high calving rate? Increased metabolic issues? Can you ensure all of your cow management protocols will still be achieved?
Consider this example. In April, Dairy X had 35 cows calve and 20 percent of the cows (seven head) had to be examined or treated in some fashion. This was taken care of by one employee and the weather was very cow/people friendly. Now in July, Dairy X will have 75 cows calve and 50 percent of the cows (37 head) will need to be examined or treated. Realistically, can this be done by the same single employee correctly, especially in light of the severely heat-stressed environment?
It’s important to review your treatment protocols and current labor situation. It’s not too late to put in place a solid plan to deal with the heat as we still have a lot of summer ahead of us. Work with you nutritionist to strategize the best way to prevent metabolic issues that may occur.
Finally, remember that this heat is stressful on humans too. Be safe by drinking plenty of water and taking a few minutes to rest throughout the day. You and your team are no good to the cows if you are also suffering from heat exhaustion.
About the author: Rod Martin is a dairy specialist and a member of the Vita Plus dairy technical services team. He grew up on his family’s diversified livestock farm in southwest Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and animal science, and a master’s degree in animal nutrition. He has 24 years of experience in consulting with Midwest dairy operations.