The highest risk period for infections related to mastitis is that occurring around calving and the reason why is quite clear: during this period, the cow faces several physiological and metabolic changes, while her natural defensive mechanism is lower. This means a higher susceptibility to infections and udder issues, and much more.
The incidence of mastitis in the first month after calving is high: special management during the period around calving will help us keep cows healthy and make milk production profitable. Any issue occurring from three weeks before to three weeks after calving can negatively affect the rest of the lactation, both at cow and herd level.
Physiological, metabolic and endocrine activities during the periparturient period are quite challenging for the dairy cow: rapid differentiation of secretory parenchyma, exceptional mammary growth, abundant synthesis and secretion, and intense accumulation of colostrum and milk occur.
Particularly before calving, the cow’s mammary gland are noticeably vulnerable to infections. Thus, the effectiveness of a good dry cow treatment is essential, but not the only strategy that needs to be implemented. Management becomes of paramount importance and many are the critical points that deserves the highest attention of dairy farmers.
Environmental bacteria remain a hard challenge during this period and we have to rely on methods of controlling mastitis. Thus, we will strive to make the housing environment a better place for the cow.
In addition to the lower defense mechanism and the threat of environmental pathogens, we have to consider stress stemming from different situations that the cows go through. Cows generally respond to stress in terms of behavioral, immunological, neuroendocrine, and autonomic responses.
Great importance is given to the specifically designed ration to meet the cow’s nutritional needs during pre-calving but this is not the only determining factor for her performance and health during the imminent lactation.
Other aspects impacting the cow around calving are related to stress affecting the animal, such as overcrowding, moving cattle between groups and animal management. In addition, a well-designed stall, trained personnel (untrained workers are a real risk for any cows on the farm) and space management are essential.
Moving cattle between specific groups is of great significance, in particular for primiparous cows. Depending on the natural existing hierarchy among cows of different ages, primiparous cows will be subordinate by the multiparous cows and the agonistic effect is amplified any time overcrowding happens. The consequent risk of moving cattle and hierarchy is to have a reduced intake of ration in addition to stress. As preventive measures, we must therefore limit the number of moves around calving and keep overcrowding at bay in the dry cow, close-up/calving and post-calving areas.
Being aware of the hierarchy established by multiparous cows, we must consider creating more homogeneous groups on the basis of age to reduce the effects of competition.
How many groups should we evaluate before calving? First of all, a dry period group (average period of 60 days), which should be located adjacent to the close-up/calving group (here is where we will move cows 14-21 days before the estimated calving date, never less then 10 days before). Then, we have to consider post-calving group of fresh cows that must be monitored for a few days.
These ideal groups must take into account, in a real dairy farm, the available space, the presence of trained personnel able to carry out both the group moves and the progress within the group and the feasibility in terms of management. Thus, there will be farms where, immediately after calving, the cows will be transferred in the lactating group. However, it is good to keep in mind that every management choice made has effects on the cows’ welfare and therefore on performance.
To reduce stress due to the re-established hierarchy in each group, in particular to avoid effects due to retarded move in the close-up/calving group, we should consider the general rule of moving animals in groups weekly and not daily.
Crowding density represents a critical point: we should be able to adequately estimate the proportion of the lactating herd that will be in a certain period of the lactation as to evaluate with a discrete accuracy the space needed for cows in any group. Managing the number of animals in the various groups is not such a simple and mathematical thing because, due to the seasonal influence on fertility, the number of calving events will rarely be constant throughout the year.
The areas intended for close-up/calving groups should ensure comfort, hygiene, safety and space for the cows, but also make things easier for the worker. They can be individual or collective boxes, but in both cases the best option is deep litter housing compared to cubicles, although these guarantee sufficient comfort. If you plan to prepare an area that will house the close-up/calving group, then a collective box, you will first need an area that is oversized in relation to the number of cows. While moving cattle, we must avoid moving the cows in the group too close to the date of calving, as indicated above. The goal is to give the cow the necessary time to get used to the new environment and avoid stress.
Having enough space to separate fresh cows in the post-calving group for about ten days (maximum 14 days) is certainly very useful, especially for the observation of primiparous cows. Fresh cows can thus be monitored to check their nutrition, rumination and health status. If the cow needs treatment, it will be moved to the nursery pen, if on the other hand she is in good health conditions she can be transferred among the lactating cows.
The ability to manage transition cows according to these principles will not only give them a more comfortable environment, but will also reduce the occurrence of problems related to calving: this reminds us how training is vital for the entire life of our dairy farms. .