Dealing with heifers post-calving

Calving is underway and most of you will be busy starting to train your freshly calved heifers into your milking routine. From experience, I know this can be a highly stressful time for a farmer. But how often do we remember that it is also a very stressful time for heifers in particular?

Much the same as their older herd mates, calving is very hard on a heifer, but the experience of calving is brand new to a first calver. Her body and hormones are doing things that have never happened before and from her mindset must be quite worrying and stressful

Add to this the new experience of now going into a big shed with new noises and things moving and someone touching her udder which she most likely has never experienced before.

These necessary but added stresses can have detrimental effects to that heifer’s health throughout that season.

We have for many years been saying that stress is one of the leading causes of lameness in cattle and that that stress comes in various forms.

So, what can you do to help your heifers have a less stressful time this calving and minimise incidences of lameness?

Post-calving, cows and heifers need plenty of good quality grass and ample clean water available at all times. Pinching cows now will certainly extend your round and ensure you have plenty of grass available for the second round, but it isn’t very beneficial to the cow. Finding an equilibrium is essential, with prior planning the previous season, you can ensure that the grass is available from day dot.

We mustn’t overlook rest on a freshly calved cow. Just because the calf is now out and she’s ready to be milked doesn’t mean that she is ready straight away for those long walks to the back paddocks. Post-calving, a cow needs time to recover, after all, she has just pushed a 30kg+ calf out.

The most important factor of poorly behaved heifers and indeed cows can be directly attributed to our handling of said animals. With new staff on-farm, some of those being completely “green” to dairying, we must really focus on teaching good, safe and proper animal handling techniques.

We need to be patient with cows and learn how to move them in a controlled manner. There is some fantastic material out there for teaching new staff on animal handling. My favourite way I learnt in the past was by working in my spare time for a stud farm and learning to train R2 bulls for the show ring.

“This article was written by Perry Costen, Professional Trimmer for VeeHof Hoofcare Services”

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