Managing Transition Cows in a Heat Spell

Posted on November 9, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
With Rod Martin, Vita Plus Dairy Technical Services
An unusually hot summer has led to higher heat stress not only for employees, but also dry cows. Even though summer is almost over, and the cooler temperatures are around the corner, dairy operations will still see a drop in milk production. Rod Martin, Vita Plus dairy technical services, explains why that happens.
According to Martin’s research, several factors play into lost milk production, but heat management is the largest factor overlooked, especially for dry cows. Limiting the amount of stress put on dry cows benefits overall milk production during the cooler months.
For the best dry cow health, Martin recommends evaluating six major risk factors on a regular basis, especially during heat spells.
  • Overcrowding – Last summer’s heat stress issues led to cows conceiving in the cooler months. This means that cows are calving in the hotter summer months this year, causing overcrowding. Overcrowding will lead to many problems for transition and fresh cows.
  • Excess pen transitions – Due to overcrowding, cattle are moved more often. When the cow is in a time period that requires a lot of energy, a pen move becomes even more stressful because that requires even more energy from the cow.
  • Employee management – Employee management is critical too. In some months, you may have enough employees to handle the calving pens. But, do you have enough people when the number of births double or triple in the next month?
  • Cow comfort – To keep stress minimal for cows, consider cow comfort. What type of bedding is being used?  Is it enough or does more need to be added?  Are mattresses or pads being used?  Stall size is important too. A stall should allow a cow to comfortably move around; whether it is to stand up, lie down or back out. If any of those movements are limited, the cow will have increased stress.
  • High fiber diet – Feed intakes and management are also important during hot times. Bunk management is key to ensure the feed is fresh and cool. Martin suggests feeding the cows smaller amounts more often. This ensures fresh feed is fed to cows and intakes stay up. Once the feed heats, intakes drop which can lead to unwanted health issues.
  • Body condition – Over-conditioned cows, overcrowding and high heat aren’t a good combination. Over-conditioned cows need extra room to ensure they stay cool. When packed in a barn, the heat takes a huge toll and, in Martin’s words, “you have a train wreck.”
Producers who can manage around these risk factors will decrease the chances of milk production dropping. This is a vicious cycle producers see every year and heat is the largest factor that leads to decreased milk production.
As Martin says, “You can’t change heat stress, but you can manage around it.”
For more articles on transition cow management, visit Vita Plus Dairy Performance.

Category: Starting Strong - Calf Care