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Matt Boyle, DVM

Fresh cows can be the most vulnerable animals on your farm. The time around calving exposes cows to the potholes of decreased dry matter intake and a decreased ability to respond adequately to disease challenges. That’s why you must pay close attention to your fresh pen and look for every opportunity to help reduce the risk of diseases, including metritis.

Reducing the risk of metritis requires careful management as cows move through the transition period. Dairies can lose, on average, $358 per cow with each case of metritis due to losses in milk production, treatment costs and reduced fertility. A plan for prevention and treatment is essential to decrease fresh cow disease incidence on your dairy and maximize response to therapy when that need arises. Your plan should focus on four goals to achieve success during the fresh cow phase.

  1. Reduce stress and ensure optimal cow comfort.

  2. Identify risk factors and early signs of disease.

  3. Train employees on disease detection and appropriate treatment.

  4. Implement genomic testing to identify disease risk.

To achieve your desired outcome, consider these keys to success.

Goal 1: Create stress-free transitions

Reducing metritis risk begins with reducing stress. During the close-up period:

  • Avoid pen moves as much as possible for approximately two weeks on either side of expected calving.

  • Provide regular access to quality feed to ensure uniform feed intake and eliminate moldy or heated feeds by cleaning out feed bunks daily.

  • Avoid overcrowding and provide approximately 30 inches of feed bunk space per cow during the transition period.

  • Consider separating heifers and older cows to avoid aggressive behavior.

  • Provide an environment that ensures a comfortable stall is available each time a cow wants to lay down. Achieve this through frequent addition of new bedding, cleaning of soiled stalls, and maintenance of stall hardware.

To keep the maternity pen stress-free:

  • Move only those cows that are showing signs of imminent labor to maternity pens.

  • Devote an employee to walking the close-up and maternity pens at least every hour.

  • Maintain clean and dry facilities. Wet or dirty conditions can lead to an increased risk of metritis and mastitis as well as disease challenges for the newborn calf.

  • Train employees to understand when it is appropriate to intervene during a perceived calving difficulty and how to do so correctly.

  • Avoid disturbing the cows in the maternity pens.

Goal 2: Know the risk factors

At calving time, there are several risk factors that can lead to metritis. If a cow experiences one of the following risk factors, monitor her closely to ensure timely treatment.

  • Retained fetal membrane: Cows that fail to expel the fetal membranes within 12 to 24 hours are six times more likely to develop metritis.

  • Dystocia: A cow that experienced a long, difficult delivery is more than twice as likely to develop metritis compared with a cow that had a normal calving.

  • Stillbirth: A cow is 1.5 times more likely to develop metritis if she has a calf that is not born alive or that is lost within the first 48 hours of birth.

  • Twinning: A cow that delivers twins at calving is 3.4 times more likely to experience a retained placenta and 10.5 times more likely to experience dystocia — creating a direct link to metritis.

  • Decreased dry matter intake: Any interference with normal dry matter intake during the transition phase can affect immune function, startup milk in the fresh period and postpartum feed intake as well as creating a risk for ketosis.

Goal 3: Train employees to diagnose and treat

It is important that key employees are trained to watch for metritis symptoms to allow for early detection and treatment. Work with your veterinarian under a veterinarian-client-patient relationship to establish protocols and consistently train new and existing employees to follow protocols for diagnosing and treating metritis. Fresh cow screening steps include:

  • Check the udder for fullness before milking. Fresh cow udders should be full and tight.

  • Watch for drops in production from one milking to the next.

  • Examine uterine discharge and be aware of red-brown or watery discharge accompanied by a strong, foul odor. The cow may also stand with her tailhead and tail slightly raised, suggesting discomfort or pain.

  • Assess the cow’s attitude and demeanor. Look for “depressed cows” with sunken, dull eyes or poor rumen fill observed on the left side of the cow behind the last rib.

  • Watch for cows that might be hanging back from the feed bunk or looking dehydrated and check for fever. A temperature of 103˚ F or higher could be an indication of metritis but realize not all cows with metritis will have an elevated temperature.

If a cow is diagnosed with metritis, it is critical to treat the metritis infection with an appropriately labeled, efficacious product so she can return to full health and peak production quickly. EXCEDE® (ceftiofur crystalline free acid) Sterile Suspension is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat acute postpartum metritis in a two-dose regimen and has zero milk discard, allowing a cow to avoid a trip to the hospital pen, which is beneficial for minimizing social stress and exposure to more disease.

Goal 4: Implement genomic testing to identify a cow's disease risk

The newest weapon in the arsenal of reducing disease risk is genomic testing. With genomic information gathered using CLARIFIDE® Plus, dairies gain new predictions that demonstrate which of their animals are at an elevated risk to experience the common diseases of mastitis, lameness, metritis, retained placenta, displaced abomasum and ketosis to improve herd profitability. First- and second-year results of a field study using CLARIFIDE Plus show that cows in the top quartile based on their respective genetic trait herd rankings had 45% fewer cases of metritis than cows in the bottom quartile. Effectively, cows in the worst 25% were twice as likely to become ill with metritis compared with cows in the best 25% of the herd genomically, resulting in a $32 difference per head.

Reducing metritis incidence has a real economic impact for dairy operations. Find tips to minimize your metritis risk and work with your Zoetis representative to optimize your fresh cow management protocol.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to EXCEDE. EXCEDE is contraindicated in animals with known allergy to ceftiofur or to the ß-lactam group (penicillins and cephalosporins) of antimicrobials. Inadvertent intra-arterial injection is possible and fatal. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. Pre-slaughter withdrawal time is 13 days following the last dose.



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