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

Time4Lambing: Our Guide To Preparing For The Lambing Season

Preparation for lambing 01

Feeding ewes pre-lambing 

It’s vital that ewe nutrition is optimised throughout pregnancy to aid lamb development, as well as maintain ewe health and condition. Particular attention should be paid to their diet in the last six weeks of gestation, as this is when ewes start to produce colostrum and 70% of foetal growth takes place.  

Splitting ewes up according to the number lambs they’re carrying at scanning, will mean feed can be allocated correctly. This means target pre-lambing body condition scores (BCS) will be met, reducing the risk of problems either side of labour. 

Aim for the following target body condition scores at lambing (AHDB)

Ewe type 

Lowland ewe (60-80kg) 

Hill ewe (40-60kg) 

Ewe lambs 

Target BCS at lambing 

3.0 – 3.5 

2.5 

3.0 

 

If ewes are over-condition, they’re more prone to prolapse. Whereas under-conditioned ewes may have a reduced milk yield and produce lambs with a lower birthweight and/or survival rate.  

Our experts recommend providing cake or nuts that contain 16-18% protein to ewes carrying multiple lambs. This will help to ensure ewes maintain the correct BCS. Providing a higher protein and energy diet will also help to prevent twin lamb disease. 

It’s also important to ensure ewes have enough selenium and Vitamin E in their diet during late gestation. This will help support immune function, which is compromised just before the ewe lambs. These minerals and vitamins are also vital to help improve lamb vigour, survivability at birth and long-term growth rates.  

Metabolic testing, to detect vitamin and mineral deficiencies, can be carried out by your vet and blocks or buckets can be used to supplement livestock. Alternatively, drenches and boluses can be used to ensure individual ewes are dosed.  

Silage analysis should be considered to better understand the dry matter, nutrients and trace elements are available.  

Preparation for lambing

Health planning 

Vaccinations 

Our experts recommend vaccinating against clostridial diseases, such as lamb dysentery, and pasteurellosis, which can cause lamb deaths.  

Breeding ewes will require a primary course of two pasurella injections four to six weeks apart followed by an annual booster four to six weeks before lambing. Clostridial diseases should be vaccinated against four weeks prior to lambing. 

Also consider administering a footrot injection to sheep, at least four weeks before lambing if they’re housed. This will help to prevent it spreading. 

Treat for parasites 

Liver fluke poses a risk to in-lamb ewes as it can cause anaemia, rapid loss of condition and even death. It can also reduce lamb birth weight and cause abortion. Because of this, consider treating pregnant ewes with a flukicide at least six weeks prior to lambing. 

Worms become active once they detect oxytocin in the blood – the hormone that signals the start of milk production in the ewe just before and after lambing. Treating ewes soon after lambing when milk production has begun will therefore be beneficial. 

Lice and scab also pose a risk to livestock during the winter as the parasites tend to be more active when temperatures fall. It’s crucial ewes are treated prior to the lambing season, to reduce the risk of lice or scab being passed onto lambs, as treatment isn’t available for lambs under three weeks of age.  

Lambing kit list 

There’s nothing more frustrating than not having everything you need while you’re in the middle of lambing. Here’s our handy checklist to make sure you’re prepared: 

  • Milk powder 
  • Colostrum 
  • Iodine 
  • Disposable gloves 
  • Marker 
  • Lamb warming box  
  • Infrared lamps and bulbs 
  • Tail and castration rings 
  • Elastrator pliers 
  • Lime/disinfect 
  • Bottles and tubes 
  • Syringes and needles 
  • Prolapse harness/spoon 
  • Gels and lubes 
  • Ropes and instruments 
  • Feeder buckets 
  • Hay racks 
  • Medication that might be required e.g. antibiotics 
  • Glucose solution to treat twin lamb disease  
  • Cade lamb feeders  
  • Clean and disinfect sheds  
  • Set up lambing pens, including cade lamb pens 
  • Check water supply and clean water troughs 
lambing list cover
Click to View

View our 2022 Lambing Essentials List

Everything you need to get lambing done right this season

EWE PREPARATION

  • Ewe Feeds
  • Drenches
  • Minerals, Feed Buckets & Blocks
  • POM-VPS Medicine

LAMBING ASSISTANCE

  • Lambing Essentials
  • Marking
  • Gloves
  • Clothing
  • Disinfectants & Cleaners
  • Heat Lamps
  • Equipment
  •  

LAMB NUTRITION

  • Lamb Nutrition & Feeding

Country Stores Lambing Checklist

We’ve created a handy lambing checklist – take a look at the items below, if you’re missing something or running low, you can pre-order your goods for collection from your local store…don’t forget to pick up some dog food and treats for your hard working collies too! You can find a list of additional contact details for most branches here.

  • Carrs Twin Lamb Drench
  • Bacto-Col Lamb Products
  • Bacto-Col Plus Colostrum
  • Lamb Milk replacer
  • Bottles & Teats
  • Colostrum Feeder Syringe & Tubes
  • Lamb Feeder Buckets
  • Infrared Lamp & Bulbs
  • Calciject & Magniject
  • Syringes & Needles
  • Lambing Ropes & Instruments
  • Prolapse Harness & Spoon
  • Gloves
  • Carrs Agri Gel/Lube
  • Carrs Iodine
  • Castration Rings
  • Elastrator Pliers
  • Crooks
  • Stock Marking Sprays
  • Tea & Coffee
  • & lots more!

Cattle Tagging – Best Practice

Tagging of cattle is a mandatory exercise, and first tagging should be carried out within 36 hours for dairy cattle, and 20 days for beef. The British Cattle Movement Service offer advice on best practices for tagging your cattle. You should consider the following points when tagging your bovines.

  • The tag should be applied 1/3 from the head and 2/3 from the tip of the ear.
  • For cattle the tags should be inserted in the middle/lower ear.
  • Avoid piercing the ridges of cartilage in the ear, as this may deform the ear and may also result in infection.
  • Make sure that you or your operator is properly trained and competent in the application of ear tags. Read the Health and Safety Executive’s advice on the handling and housing of cattle (Agriculture Information Sheet 35). HERE
  • Make sure that you are using the correct applicator for the model of tag you are fitting. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Fit in cool weather (where possible) to minimise infections.
  • Secure the animal’s head to prevent jerking during tagging.
  • Apply tags under hygienic conditions. The operator’s hands, the ear, the tag and the applicator should be clean. Disinfect as necessary using an appropriate solution.
  • When fitting plastic tags make sure the tags line up correctly on the applicator and will lock together when correctly fitted.
  • In the case of plastic tags ensure that both parts of the tag have the same number.
  • In the case of plastic tags the female part of the tag should always be on the inside of the ear, this will reduce the chance of the tag snagging or catching on obstructions such as fences, gates and feeding troughs. The male part of the tag should always enter from the back of the ear.
  • Check the ear after about 10 days for signs of damage or infection. Consult your veterinary surgeon as necessary.
  • Store unused tags in a clean dry container.

Cattle tags are available to order from all of our Country Stores, and SAME DAY  REPLACEMENT TAGS are available from our Barnard Castle, Kendal and Stirling branches with their on-site laser facilities.