News & Advice

How did last season’s springer management work on your farm?

Jun 3, 2021 | Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare, Dairy Farm Reproduction

Katrina Roberts, Herd Health Veterinarian, Anexa Vets

The transition period (defined as the 4 weeks before until 4 weeks after calving) is so important because it sets the cow up for her entire lactation. Now is the time to review it and tweak it so this season it’s even better.


The first question is what does awesome springer management look like?

At the cow-level we want a cow that leaves the colostrum mob still standing, healthy (no disease), milking well, eating well, hasn’t cost you in drug treatments or vets visits, achieves early lactation production that is above herd average and gets back in calf in the first 6 weeks of the mating period without any extra help. 


What does that look like at herd-level?
  • <2% of the herd treated for metabolic issues (down cow/milk fever type conditions)
  • <2% of the herd with retained foetal membranes (RFMs) 24h after calving
  • <3% calves born dead or die within 24h of birth
  • <3% assisted calvings
  • <5% of cows with clinical mastitis in the first month after calving
  • <10% of the herd metricheck positive when you check the whole herd 4-6 weeks before PSM
  • Losing < 1 BCS (body condition score) between calving and mating 


Why is it a challenge to get it right all the time?

The metabolic adjustments that have to occur from a dry to a lactating cow are huge. For example, over the 24-hour peripartum period a cow’s demand for calcium increases 400%! One of the reasons why recent research has indicated that fatter cows pre-calving cope better if they are fed 90% of the requirement in the last couple of weeks before calving, is do with training the liver to process body fat. This process has to happen from the day of calving, whereas during the dry period it is likely the cow has been doing the opposite (preserving and gaining BCS), so when she calves she isn’t metabolically fit. 

To optimise the transition period we need cows in the right BCS (heifers and second calvers at 5.5 and mature cows at 5). We need energy allocation to be correct:

  • for her stage of gestation (is she calving this week or in a month?)
  • her BCS (if she is a mature cow and is in BCS 5 or greater then she can be offered 90% of requirements, if she is a mature cow less than BCS 5 or if she is a heifer, then she needs to be offered 100% of requirements)
  • her live weight (size/breed)
  • to allow for food wastage appropriately


 In most herds, the basics work

Get the dry matter intakes right for the springing cows (not too much nor too little). This is especially important if you have a wide range of cow condition – lots of skinny cows (less than BCS 4.5) or fat cows (BCS 5.5 or more). Know the energy density of the feed you are offering. Last season we had very low DM% in our July pastures and extremely variable MEs, which meant two farms could be offering the same area allocation (and entry covers) but completely different total energy intakes were achieved.

Just dusting with more Causmag will not necessarily fix the problem!

Get magnesium intakes right (not too much nor too little) in the springing and dry mob. Springing cows need about 40 g of elemental magnesium. They will get about 20 g from their diet and therefore need to be supplemented with a further 20g (‘down the throat’). If you need any help working out how much elemental magnesium is provided by the different magnesium products (i.e. chloride, sulphate or oxide) give us a call. Supplementing with 2 forms of mag is better than relying on one source. Calculating how much Causmag to dust, assume 100% wastage on a good day (i.e. you need to dust twice as much as they need to injest) and 150% wastage on a wet day, so adjust your amounts accordingly.

Remove Calcium and salt from the diet for the last 3 to 4 weeks before calving i.e. aim to offer a diet <0.2% DM Calcium.

Don’t feed springers more than 2-3kg of PKE per cow per day and if you do use PKE feed, it in a way so that all cows eat the same amount.

Avoid pastures with high potassium levels – Potassium in pasture can remain high for years so it is not just the current effluent area but historical effluent areas. If unsure, pasture sample the proposed springer paddocks 3 weeks before you start. Usually avoid new grass or annuals for the springers as well. These pastures are often very low in magnesium. Even in the dry cows if magnesium levels are low then BCS gain can be compromised.

Feed (fresh break) and supplement Mg and Ca (dust/drench/on feed) the newly calved cows as soon as practical after calving (to help prevent the drop in calcium) – twice a day pick up of calves works if you can manage the practicalities.

Don’t skimp on the colostrum cows – they need lots of food and calcium – feed them ad lib high quality feed and 200-300g of lime flour plus their daily mag requirements every day.

Give the high-risk cows (6+ year olds, cows with BCS >5, cows that have had assisted calvings, Jerseys and cows that sit down every year) oral calcium such as  Calpro bolus on the day of calving. We recommend that one bolus is given as soon as practical after calving in these high risk cows and then if needed repeat 12-15h later. These boluses are also useful for follow up treatment for down cows. IV calcium causes a rapid spike in blood calcium, which is followed by a significant drop a few hours later. All IV calcium treatments should be followed up with an oral calcium product when the cow can swallow. Boluses are easier to administer in these situations than the oral calcium starter drenches.

Your prevention plan will be specific to your farm because your feed is different, your cows are different and you have different people and infrastructure involved. It is strongly advisable to develop your plan with your Vet – make use of all the practical ideas they have seen work on other farms, combined with the scientific evidence! 


What if the basics don’t work on my farm? If, despite doing the basics right, you had 3% clinical down cows last season, then you may need to consider some additional options. One option that may work for your farm is a special transition mix developed at Anexa. It is a reasonably priced DCAD mineral mix containing plenty of magnesium. If you want to know if this mix will fit your herd then please speak to your vet ASAP, as it needs to start 3 weeks before your planned start of calving (PSC).
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