Calving increases stress

Calving has started. What are the points that are important to minimize lameness currently?

At the start of the season, it is important to realise what the risk factors are, and how to manage them as this has an impact on the whole season and possibly beyond. Spring is a particularly important time because there are lots of things happening in the cow’s life that are stressful. At calving there are lots of hormonal changes in the body, their diet often changes suddenly, getting into a different routine etc. This is even more so for R2’s. They have never calved, or been milked before and, the more dominant heifers, in particular, will struggle with finding their place in a new herd where they suddenly are not the dominant animals anymore.

So, at this time of the year, a big focus should be on minimizing stress on our cows. This is important at any time of the year but particularly so at calving time. You need to make sure cows are fully fed, keep heifers in a separate herd, practice excellent animal handling skills and make sure your cows have comfortable dry resting areas. I can hear some of you thinking that this just isn’t practical and we need to eat out the paddocks properly to make sure we have good quality grass in our second round. Don’t underestimate the importance of resting and of fully feeding your cows. Of course, there is a balance between fully feeding and wasting grass and that needs to be managed properly as well. But if you hold back on your cows in order to gain a better quality grass, then it will cost you more than you probably realize. Why not use a mower? That is what they are made for and it doesn’t cost as much. It only feels that way because you can see and calculate the cost and it is a lot harder to calculate the gains of properly fed cows.

The resting opportunity is a big challenge for most farmers, especially on irrigated farms where all the trees had to be taken out to give way to the centre pivot. On top of that, many cows in NZ are now wintered on winter crops. You may have noticed that those cows spend a lot more time standing particularly when we have had some rain. Those cows haven’t had the rest over the winter that they needed. They are “coming to work” after their holiday already tired and it’s only going downhill from there. That is why I have big problems with the way winter crops are being fed. It is too hard on the cows, and you will be paying for it in loss of production, lameness, mastitis and the image that you create to the public.

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