Get her back on her feet
The post-calving cow or heifer needs adequate nutrition to withstand cold temperatures, produce milk for her calf and start preparing her for the breeding season. Hilton says nutritionists and veterinarians can help their clients formulate a balanced ration to accomplish these goals while keeping an eye on the bottom line. “This ration will not necessarily be more expensive than a poorer ration,” he says. “I have seen very many times in my career where we formulate a ration that meets the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements of a group of cows and it is cheaper than the current ration. Most times the current ration is full feed of a low-quality hay. Don’t be tempted to add a very expensive convenience feed to solve all the woes of the herd. The time-tested strategy of testing feedstuffs and balancing a ration may not be ‘sexy’, but it works.”
W. Mark Hilton, DVM, Dipl. ABVP Hilton says if a thin cow calves and is fed well post-calving, she will respond with increased milk production and hopefully will only lose a few weeks on her calving interval. “If this same cow is underfed post-calving she has a high likelihood to not getting pregnant during the subsequent breeding season. Pregnancy is a physiological luxury to the cow. Not enough groceries and she has no biological reason to rebreed.”
You can’t change the weather conditions from year to year, but you can help your clients heed recommendations from other experts that can help them through situations like the drought. Hilton says his area of Indiana got some rain in August/September that revived their pastures, but, “It was a good thing our Extension forage experts let it be known that cows needed to move off of the pastures during the drought so the forage would come back when it finally rained.”
Especially during the down years, it’s still important to encourage your clients to keep detailed records on their cows, calves and breeding and calving seasons.
“The most important thing you should have done this past winter was to have someone other than the owner or person who sees the cows frequently to body condition score the cows a couple of times during the winter,” Hilton suggests. “If they are losing weight, this needs to be corrected ASAP. Preventing all the problems we’ve discussed is much more rewarding than treating them.”
Read more about treating sick and weak calves in your practice, including recommendations for treating calf dehydration, at www.BovineVetOnline.com (search for “Saving Winter Calves”).