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Transition Diseases

By: Larry Goelz, DVM

We often use the incidence of transition diseases as an indicator of the overall health of the dairy.  Rates of fresh-cow mastitis, lameness, metritis, displaced abomasum, ketosis and milk fever are specifically good indicators of cow health and nutrition in the pre-freshening pen.  Quite simply, a cow needs to have correct nutrition, a comfortable space to lie down in and adequate pen size to not be intimidated by herd mates to lay the ground work for a successful calving and smooth transition into a high-production lactating cow.  Lameness or inadequate stall or feed access will cause the cow to start losing weight prior to calving.  Cows calving with a negative energy balance are pre-disposed to metritis, ketosis and DA’s.  Incorrect calcium and phosphorus will predispose cows to milk fever.
Most importantly the ration can be perfect but if the cow is pushed away from the bunk or is too lame to be competitive with the herd mates it doesn’t matter how perfect the ration is formulated.  The formulated ration is not what she is consuming. We often use the incidence of transition diseases as an indicator of the overall health of the dairy.  Rates of fresh-cow mastitis, lameness, metritis, displaced abomasum, ketosis and milk fever are specifically good indicators of cow health and nutrition in the pre-freshening pen.  Quite simply, a cow needs to have correct nutrition, a comfortable space to lie down in and adequate pen size to not be intimidated by herd mates to lay the ground work for a successful calving and smooth transition into a high-production lactating cow.  Lameness or inadequate stall or feed access will cause the cow to start losing weight prior to calving.  Cows calving with a negative energy balance are pre-disposed to metritis, ketosis and DA’s.  Incorrect calcium and phosphorus will predispose cows to milk fever.  Most importantly the ration can be perfect but if the cow is pushed away from the bunk or is too lame to be competitive with the herd mates it doesn’t matter how perfect the ration is formulated.  The formulated ration is not what she is consuming.

So what is the cost of transition disease?  What is the normal rate of transition disease?  What is too high and can signal that there is a problem?  In the following is a list of the total cost of each case of the following diseases.

These include treatment cost, cost of culling or death, lost production and discarded milk:
Mastitis                            $376
Lameness                        $259
Metritis                            $218
Retained Placenta         $232
DA                                    $536
Ketosis                            $129
Milk Fever                       $246

The normal or acceptable levels of these diseases are much lower than they were 20 years ago.  With improved nutrition, stall designs and ventilation we are now seeing the following targets for each of these diseases in fresh cows:
Mastitis                        <15%
Lameness                    <25%
Metritis                        <8%
Retained Placenta     <8%
LDA                              <2%
Ketosis                         <10%
Milk Fever                   <8%

 

Higher levels than these targets suggest that there is a problem in the pre-fresh pen.  Periodic monitoring and working with your veterinarian can continue to push lower the levels of transition disease in your herd and make your operation more profitable.

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