Time4Transitioning: A guide to improving transition cow comfort

Transition cows typically have lower immune systems compared to that of the milking herd, making them vulnerable to disease such as ketosis, mastitis, metritis and milk fever.

Stress before, at and post-calving can make them even more susceptible to issues, as can factors caused by environmental influences. So, ensuring dairy cow comfort is prioritised by improving housing conditions, will help reduce health issues brought on through stress and set them up for subsequent milk production.

Methods to reduce transition cow stress and improve comfort

Feed space

Ensuring 85cm to 1m of feed trough space per cow (slightly more than the target 75cm in-milk cow space) will help to reduce stress by limiting aggressive interactions between cows.

Adequate feed space will also encourage greater feeding activity to ensure optimum body condition scores and rumen fill are achieved. This is important to prevent metabolic disorders pre-and post-calving and ensure cows are not under or overweight which could cause difficulties at calving.

Water troughs

Dehydration is a significant issue in cows post-calving causing a reduction in feed intakes. Freshly calved cows can drink 20L of water or more.

Aim for 10cm water trough space per cow, with one drinking point per 20 cows. This will reduce competition and stress, enabling adequate intakes. Water troughs should be clean, with a flow rate to encourage drinking.

JCF large double and oval 100-200GL ‘fast-fill’ troughs fill at 75L per minute. Find out more by calling your local Carr’s Billington branch: Store Locator

Bedded areas

Cows need ample space to lie, so aim for 10 to 12m2 of bedded area per cow. It’s also good practice to have extra housing space available to prevent overstocking which can result in competition and stress.

Bedding should be clean and dry, ideally 60cm deep to improve comfort which will encourage rumination. This is important to maintain feed intakes and efficient digestion.

Cubicles should be 1.35m wide and 2m long with 75cm headspace for lunging. If cows are lying half in and half out of cubicles more space may be required.

Ventilation and lighting

Ventilate housing by opening roof ridges and side inlets to a minimum of 20 to 30cm wide to ensure adequate airflow.

Stale, humid air will be present where airflow is poor in the shed so cows may refuse to lie down or eat in these areas. Bacterial growth is also more likely, which will increase the risk of respiratory disease.

Carefully group cows and minimise changes

Cows prefer consistency and routine so achieving a ‘stress free calving line’ is a critical component of maximising the health and productivity of dairy cows.

Group ‘far off’, ‘close up’ and ‘freshly calved’ cows in pens adjacent to one another in the same building. This will minimise the stress of moving cows from group to group through this critical transitional period.

Ideally, cows should also be moved in groups, at least a pair at a time – not individually. Adopt a ‘just in time move’ approach as moving cows into a different pen just at the point of calving is less stressful than moving them within ten to two days.

If space allows, a relatively new idea is to provide a “cuddle box” for the calf outside the calving pen so the cow can see and lick the calf but not defecate on it. This will help to reduce post-calving stress.

Speak to your local specialist for advice on keeping your transition cows as comfortable as possible.

You can also read more about dry cows nutrition to optimise health and milk yield here: Time4Transitioning: A Guide On Dry Cow Nutrition and here: Time 4 Transitioning | Time 4 Winter