Although the scientific community has extensively debated the importance of the transition period on the performance and health of cows, and, consequently, on the economic success of the production systems, the way that we manage the animals in dairy operations still need to be discussed. Cows and farms have been changing over the years and management strategies must be constantly fine-tuned to attend to the increased demands of animals and society. Therefore, many experts on transition cow health and management presented the most recent information regarding the available strategies to enhance health of dairy cows at the second Animal Health Symposium hosted by the 2021 ADSA annual meeting.
Automated health monitoring systems, voluntary milking systems, and a wide variety of technologies have been released every year and can be used to improve herd health through non-invasive, quick, and accurate detection of disorders. Cows with clinical diseases, for instance, demonstrate alterations of their behavioral patterns, physiological, and performance parameters that can be identified by precision technologies and machine learning. Furthermore, the risen number of farms adopting robotic milking systems (RMS) highlights the necessity of better understanding how we can use RNS to manage mammary gland infections and better explore the performance of the cows either before the dry off or during the fresh period. Increasing our capacity to record disease incidence and to track operational costs also improve the economic evaluation on farms, contributing to the profitability of the dairy industry.
Strategies to treat mastitis and to improve the dry cow therapy were also discussed by the panelists. With the advance of scientific knowledge regarding antibiotic therapy and mammary gland diseases management, more tools become available to support producers in making better decisions about milk quality and mammary gland health. While prevention is the most important and cost-effective aspect of controlling mastitis, interventions such as culling and the use of antibiotics or non-antibiotics treatments can be adopted after infection has been established. Selective dry cow therapy is an example of how cows or quarters can be screened at the time of dry-off to identify candidates for antibiotic therapy. The use of somatic cell count and/or microbiological culture associated with farm records is the first step for the implementation of a successful program.
Nutritional management and genetics are also topics strictly related to the transition period of cows. The use of feed additives (e.g, choline), and the implementation of acidogenic diets during the prepartum period are some strategies that improve the performance of the animals and reduces the incidence of diseases such as mastitis and retained placenta during the postpartum. The investigation of starch, fiber and metabolizable protein levels in the diet of fresh cows remains necessary. Although recent works have demonstrated that cows maintain their performance and have a more attenuated inflammatory process when fed with lower starch diets, more focus should be given on the first 14 days of lactation. In addition, the use of a resilience index to identify cows with the capacity to cope with environmental disturbances such as pathogens or heat waves is a promising trait for the selection of animals.
Leoni F. Martins is from Brazil, and he is a research assistant at Penn State University under the mentorship of Dr. Hristov. He has a strong background in ruminant nutrition, and he is currently working on how precision feeding affects performance and enteric gases emissions of dairy cows.