The time before and just after calving is the most stressful time in a cow’s life. Because of the stress the cow is under, this period is when she is the most susceptible to disease and metabolic disorders.
Keeping the cow calm and content during this time is important. This includes giving her enough space to eat, drink and lie down, with little social competition from other cows. On many dairies, crowded transition pens make the opportunity to alleviate stress difficult. A study from British Columbia, published in the October Journal of Dairy Science, looked at how a competitive social environment affects cow behavior and health during and after the transition period.
PREDICTABLE IS GOOD
At five weeks before calving, 64 cows were split into groups of four made up of one first-lactation and three later-lactation cows. Groups were identified as either a predictable, noncompetitive group or an unpredictable, competitive group. Starting at four weeks before expected calving, the groups of four cows in the predictable groups were given access to six feed bins. Cows in these groups stayed in the same group for the entire study.
Life wasn’t as easy in the other unpredictable groups. Cows were moved into new groups at the start of the study and were forced to compete with other cows for food and the time of feeding was delayed every other day.
Cows from both groups consumed the same amount of feed, but cows in the unpredictable groups spent less time feeding but ate more when they did get to the bunk. There was also greater impact from social interactions in the unpredictable groups.
Results indicate cows with greater than one lactation were more likely to be diagnosed with metritis after calving than cows in predictable groups. Researchers say the results show an unpredictable, competitive social environment before calving causes changes in feeding and social behavior, can impact metabolism and create inflammation, and can increase the risk of uterine disease after calving in older cows.
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