Cutting cow comfort hurts bottom line
As the cost of doing business goes up, the natural reaction is to increase efficiencies and decrease expenses. In doing so, dairy producers may unknowingly impact cow comfort, which could lead to a reduction in profitability.
“We know that a comfortable cow makes more milk,” said Linda Tikofsky, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “We want cows to stay in the herd longer so there’s a better return on the heifer investment. Making sure cows are healthy and able to rest and avoid stress will benefit a producer in the long run.”
One area where producers may choose to cut back is parasite prevention. It’s easy for a problem like lice or mange to go unnoticed in the herd, but this can impact a cow’s performance.
“Even a little bit of itching or scratching takes away from the cows’ time budget of lying down or eating,” Dr. Tikofsky added. “If they are spending time rubbing on things, it means they are uncomfortable, which in turn means less milk. We know that every additional hour of rest results in 3.5 pounds of milk per day,1 so we want our animals to be as comfortable as possible.”
Dr. Tikofsky recommends employing a program in the late fall or early winter using a dewormer that kills multiple species and stages of parasites with a high efficacy rating. If additions are made to the herd, it’s important to pour a dewormer onto the new animals before putting them in with others.
“It’s important to treat the whole herd and not just those that have the physical, clinical signs of parasites,” continued Dr. Tikofsky. “Producers should also look at the weight of the animal when pouring on a dewormer to ensure they are dosing accurately. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of application, so they should adjust the pour as needed.”
Another area where a producer may skew from the norm is at dry off. To put as much milk in the tank as possible, producers may be tempted to abruptly dry off cows that are still producing high amounts of milk. This not only makes it uncomfortable for the animal, but can also lead to mastitis and other health problems down the line.
“We know high-producing cows are less likely to form their own keratin plug and may have teat ends open, which makes them susceptible to mastitis infection during the dry period,” Dr. Tikofsky said. “Using a nutritional supplement that helps reduce milk production at dry off will help reduce udder engorgement and milk leakage.”
Research shows that cows should be producing 33 pounds or less at dry off to improve udder health.2 In the past, this was done through diet or reducing the number of milkings. However, by using a nutritional supplement of two boluses at eight to 12 hours before the last milking, milk production is reduced, and cows can focus on rest and preparing for their next lactation.
When implementing any program — whether for deworming or for dry off —producers should work with both their veterinarian and nutritionist to ensure the best for the animal.