Transition dairy cows go through many stressful changes within a short time. After calving, the cow has large energy demands for lactation and cannot consume enough feed to meet these demands. Feeding a ration specifically formulated for fresh cows and targeting specific nutritional additives for this group is valuable and will be expanded upon in future columns. However, it is important to realize management can reduce or add stressors, positively or negatively impacting rumen dynamics and cow health. Focusing explicitly on fresh cows will help minimize this stress.
    Separate fresh cow groups help producers target resources to those cows who will respond the most. A fresh cow pen should provide cows with a clean, comfortable environment to recover from calving and minimize social stress associated with moving into new groups.
    Establishing a well-located fresh cow group makes sense from a herd management standpoint. Grouping fresh cows separately from the main herd is more labor efficient and allows targeted monitoring and treatment. The primary goal of a fresh group is to minimize health events to allow cows to reach their production potential.
    Limiting the stocking density throughout the transition period is critical. Research has shown that fresh cow dry matter intake declines as stocking density increases. Aim for at least 30 inches of feed bunk space per animal in both the prefresh and fresh cow pens. Headlocks are useful for individual cow observations and treatments, but this should not be the first time a fresh heifer sees headlocks.
    Providing uninterrupted access to properly sized, well-bedded free stalls or a well-maintained bedded pack will also allow fresh cows to transition well. When planning a fresh pen, determine the number of cows it accommodates based on predicted maximum calving flow. Dairies that undersize transition cow pens typically struggle with more health events during periods of peak calving. If the fresh pen is undersized during high calving periods, you may need to reduce the number of days in the fresh pen for cows that are transitioning well.
    Heat stress and cold stress are both considerations for maximizing fresh cow comfort. Often our fresh cow pens are not in the same location as the main milking herd and can be more prone to the elements. Provide plenty of fans and sprinklers to keep your fresh cows cool in the summertime.
    Temperatures the past few months have reminded us how valuable it is to provide protection from the extreme cold as well. Ice around waters can severely limit water intake and increase the risk of injury. In addition, exposure to extreme cold and wind can result in chapped or frozen teats. First-calf heifers with mild to excessive edema are at greatest risk to teat damage with reduced blood flow to their mammary systems. In addition to housing, post-dipping strategies can help alleviate some of these issues.
    Defining how long cows stay in the fresh pen is specific to each dairy. I typically recommend that dairies have a 21-day fresh cow pen. The ebbs and flows of calving will dictate this on many farms. If cows stay in a fresh pen for more than 30 days, we need to make a nutritional compromise between maintaining bulk fiber fill (which helps only the recently fresh cows) and raising ration energy concentration (to maximize production and reduce weight loss of high-producing cows). Thus, shortening the length of time cows stay in the fresh pen is often the better choice.
    When considering a fresh cow group, work closely with your nutritionist and veterinarian to design a program that fits your herd’s dynamics and goals. The ability to provide individualized attention, adequate space and targeted feed additives will help your fresh cows transition into the high cow milking group and reach their production potential.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.