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17th February, 2019


The calving programme for most spring calving herds will begin this week.  Many farmers book forward to the first cows calving and starting up in the milking parlour.  There will frequently be an early arrival associated with a premature calving or a cow having twins.  Caring for these animals can be a nuisance.  However, each calving should be given the same attention as the first.


Herein lies the vital link to longevity of the herd.  The transition from pregnancy in the dry period to the milking state dictates the future health status of both the cow and the calf.  Approximately 80pc of herd health problems are predetermined by the management of the cow in the transition phase.  Genetics of the cow do of course play a role in her ability to cope with the transition phase.  You have to remember that the immune system of the cow is at its’ lowest point for the first 2 weeks after calving.  Any stressors such as insufficient cubicle spaces, lameness, calving difficulty, poorly balances diets and feed contaminants such as mycotoxins in the transition phase will create further challenges to the immune system.


Poor outcomes to the transition phase will ultimately impair longevity of both the calf and its dam.

Colostrum quality and quantity are dictated by events pre-calving.  It is essential that the comfort zone in transition phase is akin to a maternity ward.  Fresh feed with quality and quantity a priority and clean drinking water must be present at all times in the calving boxes.  Prioritise colostrum management now for the future longevity of replacement in your dairy herd.


feeding calfColostrum management has to keep the risk of Johnnes’ disease transition minimized.  Do not group feed colostrums.  If there is any risk of Johnes’ disease, identify older cows in the herd which have tested negative using a faeces sample.  Vigilantly keep hygiene in calving cows and avoid access of calved to faeces.  Good quality colostrums will give the calf immunity to many diseases for the first weeks after birth.  If calves get coccidiosis, cryptosporidium or pneumonia in the first two months after birth, it will have a detrimental effect on future reproductive performance and as consequence longevity.


Reproductive performance of the freshly calved cow is also directly linked to longevity.  The reproductive tract of the freshly calved cow can be compromised to a fully stretched accordion.  The rate of repair of the womb post calving is dictated by events during the transition period.  We can now measure this rate of repair by scanning cows between 14 and 22 days post calving.  This will help inform you if your transition management is correct for future cows to calve.  This scan will also identify the more fertile cows in your herd for the future use of either sexed or conventional semen.  Experiments already show that reproductive performance and its association to longevity are primarily linked to transition management.


Two separate examples depict the importance of good management to achieving longevity.

In the first case study, Michael Pat Crowley, Enniskeane, Cork has a cow with her 13th calving producing an average of 633kg of milk solids and 8777kg milk over 12 lactations.  This cow has produced seven daughters with additional cows and in-calf heifers four generations back from this cow in the herd.  This herd achieves high output from a Holstein herd by excellent attention to detail at all stages of the production cycle.


In the second example, Martin Casey, Ardfert, Kerry achieved a record 81 of 82 cows scanned pregnant for a 12 week breeding period in 2012.  This is a Holstein Friesian herd averaging approximately 6,500 litres.  Martin’s primary focus for success is achieving a BCS of 3.0 plus at drying off and maintaining this by supplemental concentrates and minerals until cows calve.


In conclusion, herd longevity is primarily dictated by events happening on your farm now.  Make it your new year’s resolution to take pride in what you do and enjoy it thereby increasing herd longevity.


Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at


Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan in The Farming Independent January 14th 2014.