I had the opportunity to fill in for an absent herdsman and perform his daily fresh pen examinations. The first thing I did was to print a report of fresh cows with low milk production. Next, I walked over to the fresh pen and walked in front of the locked up cows. I quickly looked at each animal’s alertness, hydration and amount of feed in front. As all good cow people know, it is pretty easy for trained eyes to pick out animals that do not appear to be feeling good. As I walked, I also looked at my list so I would be sure to spend a little more time looking at the animals that were low producers. Then I looked at the rear ends while noting udder fill, rumen fill, uterine discharges and feces. Armed with my recorded observations, I performed physical examinations on a few animals. I developed treatment plans for each and relayed them to J, one of the farm workers who would be administering the treatments. I had diagnosed left displaced abomasum on two cows today, and I asked J to move them to the hospital so I could surgically correct the displacements later. Next, I examined a couple of other cows that were not in the fresh pen because J had told me they needed attention. One was a cow that was on antibiotic treatment for pneumonia and the other had clinical mastitis. I recommended treatment plans for both. Then I went to the hospital pen and moved one of the surgical candidates into the chute.
    It was easy for me to get the cows restrained. And, because they have a simple home-built chute that allowed me to remove one or more fiberglass rods on the right side, I could easily and safely perform the surgeries by myself even though one of the cows was clearly not happy about what I was doing. I treated both cows with antibiotics after surgery but had to change the treatment plan on one because I discovered some complications once she was opened up. Next, I filled out the hospital record for both cows; then, I filled out a surgery report and emailed it to the farm, the herdsman, my office and the other veterinarians in our practice. Following this, I emailed my fresh pen report to everyone as well, recorded treatment notes on the whiteboard in the hospital and left a note in the office.
    As you can see, there were a lot of steps in the process. There were also steps that others on the farm performed that I did not necessarily see. There are a variety of risks here, too. First, there is a risk of missing a sick animal. This is not a big deal if she is mildly ill but could be if there is something serious. Second, there is a risk of treating an animal that really needs no treatment. The risk here is the cost of the treatment, the time it takes to treat, the safety of the employee and the cow, and the potential negative effects of the treatment on the cow. Third, these sort of risks apply to the cows needing treatment, too. We typically assume that needed treatments have only good effects, but in reality almost any treatment has a potential negatives, as well. There is also the risk of giving wrong or inappropriate treatments. Fourth, there are risks to all the animals that are locked up. Perhaps they need to lie down or get a drink. Maybe the examination techniques result in decreased dry matter intake. Fifth, there are risks of adulterating milk and meat if strict withholding requirements are not met.
    This is complicated even when done on a farm like this one where things are organized, people are trained and the proper equipment is in place. Yet the post fresh period is critical for most dairy cows, so doing the best we can to get them through makes sense. Our practice’s veterinarians like to get into the fresh pen on a semi-regular basis to understand what is typically done, to offer help in refining practices and protocols, to help train farm workers, to offer suggestions on how to improve processes involved to reduce the various risks and to assess outcomes of the fresh pen work. The School of     Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin has created a document that is great for evaluating what is happening in the fresh pen. It includes everything from the design of the work flow, design of the pen, to specific diagnoses and treatments, and to results and outcome. This tool and others that may be available to your farm’s veterinarian can help him or her to refine your fresh pen processes to hopefully help your farm be more productive, profitable and safe in the future. It may also be valuable for farm owners or managers who do not typically work in the fresh pen to step in and work with the staff on a regular basis. Managers can learn the same kind of things the veterinarian might, and they also can show employees they understand how complicated and sometimes difficult daily tasks may be.
    Nobody is perfect and no fresh pen routine is perfect. Mistakes will happen on every dairy. However, with careful risk analysis, proper monitoring, training, oversight and the right tools, hopefully the mistakes will not have large consequences and everything will flow smoothly. Getting in there once in a while to look things over can be helpful.
    Bennett is one of four dairy veterinarians at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minn. He also consults on dairy farms in other states. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at bennettnvac@gmail.com with comments or questions.