Ark Veterinary Centre

It’s Time to Optimise Your Transition Period

Jul 6, 2019
It’s Time to Optimise Your Transition Period

The transition period is defined as the 3 weeks prior to and 3 weeks following calving. During this time cows undergo many physical and metabolic changes, leaving them susceptible to a number of transition diseases such as ketosis, milk fever and LDA’s.

Optimising management of the transition period will decrease disease risk and improve the chances of a strong start to the lactation. Here we will discuss the key factors which contribute to a successful transition period. 
3. Stocking and Feed Space It is important to avoid overstocking transition cows, with an 80% stocking density being most commonly recommended. If housing cows on straw, a 10m2 per cow bedding area is required, or if precalvers are in cubicles they need to be big enough for heavily pregnant cows. There should be sufficient space at the feed face to allow all cows to eat simultaneously, minimising stress and competition.
1. Body Condition Score Cows calving too fat or too thin are more likely to suffer from negative energy balance and subsequent transition diseases as well as poorer milk yield and reduced fertility. Cows should ideally enter the dry period at the condition score they should be at calving. This means a dry cow should ideally be a BCS of 3-3.25 and have no gains or losses throughout the dry period.
BCS 3  Ribs smooth and only palpable under pressure  Fat covering whole tail head, skin smooth but pelvis palpable  Pins not prominent  Backbone rounded 
2. Nutrition Cows should have access to palatable feed and fresh water at all times. The aim when feeding transition cows is to maximise dry matter intake (DMI) in order to avoid them entering a state of negative energy balance. Consistency is key so ensure the same diet is presented at the same time each day. The diet should be contain highly palatable forages and should be well mixed to avoid sorting. An appropriate diet, containing adequate levels of dry cow micronutrients, should be formulated alongside a nutritionist.
4. Group Management Try to reduce movements and mixing, as stress caused by the change in environment and social order will result in a decrease in feeding time and bullying out of the feed space. It is recommended, where possible, to move cows in pairs and to avoid movements within 10 days of their predicted calving date.
5. Hygiene and Cow Comfort Ensure straw boxes and cubicles are kept clean to minimise introduction of disease. Avoid hard surfaces and instead aim to provide deep, loose bedding to increase cow comfort. Calving pens should be clean and well bedded to reduce disease transmission to the calf and udder. 6. Monitoring Cows should be body condition scored approximately 8 weeks prior to dry off, allowing them to enter the dry period in optimal condition. Problem cows can be identified at this time and should be more closely monitored, or may benefit from the use of Kexxtone™ boluses*. Appetite is a key indicator of health in freshly calved cows, with reduced feed intake and poor rumen fill often being an early sign of disease.  Presenting fresh cows for veterinary health checks will allow problem cows to be quickly identified, allowing fast and effective treatment.
*Kexxtone™ Boluses Kexxtone™ boluses can be given to dry cows 3-4 weeks prior to calving and work to increase energy in order to reduce the harmful effects of negative energy balance at calving. Dry cows in poor condition (either overfit or overlean) as well as those carrying twins or those who have suffered from transition disease in previous lactations may benefit from the targeted use of Kexxtone™ boluses.
To discuss more about transition cow management, managing transition disease or targeted use of Kexxtone™ boluses speak to one of our farm vets.