Longevity in the herd (article from Farming Independent

Dr Dan Ryan                                     – 14 January 2014

                    The calving programme for most spring calving herds will begin this week. Many farmers look forward to the first cows calving and starting up in the milking parlour.

The inevitable early arrival associated with a premature calving or a cow having twins often creates a bit of a nuisance. However, each calving should be given the same attention as the first.

Herein lies the vital link to longevity in 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 naturally play a role in her ability to cope with the transition phase.

You need to remember that the immune system of the cow is at its lowest point for the first two weeks after calving.

Any stresses during the transition phase such as insufficient cubicle spaces, lameness, calving difficulty, poorly balanced diets or feed contaminants such as mycotoxins will create further challenges to the immune system.

That is why poor outcomes from the transition phase end up impairing the subsequent health and life of both the calf and its dam.


Colostrum quality and quantity are also dictated by events before calving. The comfort of housing during the dry period should be akin to a maternity ward. Clean, fresh quality feed and clean drinking water must be present at all times in the calving boxes.

Colostrum management has to minimise the risk of Johne’s disease transition. Do not group feed colostrums. If there is any risk of Johne’s disease, identify older cows in the herd which have tested negative using a faeces sample.

Maintain hygiene for calving cows. 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 consequently longevity.

Reproductive performance of the freshly calved cow is also directly linked to longevity.

The reproductive tract of the freshly calved cow can be compared 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 set up to ensure your cows go back in calf. 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 with longevity are heavily dependent on transition management.

Two separate studies highlight this. In the first case study, Michael Pat Crowley, Ballineen, 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, along with lots of in-calf heifers four generations back from this cow in the herd.

This herd is proof that longevity can still be a feature of a high output Holstein herd through excellent attention to detail at all stages of the production cycle.

Martin Casey from Ardfert in Kerry is another dairy herd that excels in longevity.

Mr Casey got 81 of 82 cows scanned pregnant for a 12-week breeding period in 2012.

This is a Holstein Friesian herd averaging approximately 6,500l.

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 summery, herd longevity is primarily dictated by events happening on your farm right now.

Make it your new year’s resolution to enjoy and take pride in what you do. It will, in turn, increase your herd longevity.

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

Irish Independent

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