Dry Cows Can Have Good Memories
By Dan Leiterman, President/CEO of Crystal Creek, Inc.
Added January 30, 2012. In the course of one's life there are many lessons and principles presented for a person to learn from. One lesson I have experienced many times over is, "if a dry cow is challenged anytime during the last two months of gestation it could negatively affect the transition period and post-partum performance." In simpler terms, if a dry cow is 'dinged' (experiences a problem or challenge), there is a likelihood that she 'will remember it', resulting in a higher risk of problems during the transition period. In some situations the 'ding' may only last for one day and it may be early in the dry period, weeks away from freshening and seemingly unimportant. However, in many cases the cow could be significantly affected and negative repercussions still result during the transition period and the subsequent lactation.
What Is Dry Cow Memory?
It is a bit of fun and over simplification to personify a dry cow with having the human trait of memory. However, the suggestion of a dry cow having memory is a way of drawing attention to the 'biological memory.' The late term pregnancy of a dry cow is a complex biological process that is sensitive and vulnerable to negative challenges. If the challenge is severe enough during the dry period, the dry cow may not be able to biologically recover adequately for a healthy birthing process and lactation performance may be compromised. There are two general categories of dry cow 'dings' I use to classify the challenges most often experienced during the transition period. 1) The 'ding' was severe enough that the dry cow could not recover adequately prior to freshening. 2) The 'ding' was significant, but it put into motion a biological coping mechanism that can also cause problems at freshening and early lactation. An example of just such a biological coping mechanism that can cause problems is ketosis and/or sub-clinical ketosis. If the dry cow is 'dinged' in a way that interrupts/challenges her ability to access and/or utilize carbohydrates, she will set the stage for excessive fat to come off the back to make up the difference. The result could be various levels of ketosis during the transition period. Just one such predisposing challenge that could set the stage for ketosis to occur would be 'empty bunk syndrome' where the bunk is empty for too many hours in a day, or the feed is not pushed up on a regular basis. This prevents the cow from feeding her rumen fermentation factory on a regular hourly schedule and nutrient delivery to the cow is compromised.
Types Of Challenges Dry Cows Are Sensitive To:
There are a number of predisposing issues that can 'ding' dry cows and set the stage for a problematic transition period and reduced lactation performance. Many of these predisposing/causative issues are listed below and any one of them could make for a long discussion. Two key topics from the following list are covered in more detail in Cow Tales (a newsletter published by Crystal Creek, Inc.). The first is on feed bunk management by Dr. John Popp and the other is on mycotoxins (specifically vomitoxin) by Brian Hoffelt. Both of these topics, if occurring during the dry cow stage can significantly disrupt the transition period and severely reduce farmer profitability.
Can Dry Cows Recover During The Dry Period
To Avoid Transition Problems?
Recovery for dry cows from a 'ding' during the dry period is always possible. However, recovery and lack of negative biological memory is going to depend on the severity of the challenge and length of time of exposure. There are a few general dry cow principles that I have found more often than not to be true.
Dry cows are sensitive, complex and vulnerable creatures that will biologically remember how they are treated. It is always good for a farmer's bottom-line if the dry cows approach freshening with positive memories. A heightened awareness of the challenges dry cows face is the key first step towards solving and preventing many problems. Be pro- active and identify higher risk dry cows. Providing the extra support they need in a timely manner will keep profit draining problems to a minimum or possibly even eliminate them.
Dan Leiterman, President and CEO of Crystal Creek, Inc., is a dairy nutritionist and a manufacturer of nutraceuticals and natural livestock supplements (www.crystalcreeknatural.com). Dan has 37 years experience in the livestock industry covering dairy nutrition, calves and animal health. You can reach Dan by calling 888-376-6777, or emailing him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.