Watch out for milk fever and retained afterbirth this spring

At Bord Bia’s recent Meat Marketing Seminar, which brought together major players in the industry for updates on market developments and insights from Bord Bia, from left, David O’Flynn, Dawn Meats; Tara McCarthy, CEO, Bord Bia; and Sinead McPhillips, Department of Agriculture. Delegates were told Ireland is likely to be approved this year as a beef exporter to China, the second largest importer of beef in the world. Bord Bia sees the best opportunity for Irish beef in China in restaurant chains and e-commerce channels.

By Brian Reidy

Spring calving is about to get into full swing in dairy and beef herds.

I spoke to a few farmers over the last week, and some of their early calvers have been holding their afterbirth and/or getting milk fever.

For some, it is simply that cows have calved a good bit before time, and such cows nearly always have issues.

For others, this issue needs to be addressed immediately.

Most would associate these conditions with high yielding dairy cows, but this is very far from the truth.

Yes, most of the problems I saw in the last week were in dairy herds, but not exclusively so. Suckler cows are not immune from holding their afterbirth. It has far-reaching consequences when it comes to subsequent fertility of the affected cows. Held cleanings will often result in womb infections and metritis.

Grass silage saved in 2017 was always likely to cause problems this spring.

The vast majority of mineral analyses are coming back with excessively high potassium levels and high DCABs.

Many 2017 silages have very low feed values, and as a result, fresh calved cows won’t have sufficient energy supplied. Where silage has not been balanced correctly for minerals and energy, this will result in many issues for cows at calving. Straw and concentrates included in the dry cow diet will help to alleviate the associated problems.

You need to take a close look at your dry cow diet and management, if you want to nip the problems of retained foetal membranes or milk fever in the bud quickly.

Other calving issues

 - Are cows over or under conditioned at calving?

 - Are you disturbing cows in early labour (first calvers in particular)?

 - Are cows getting enough energy in their diet? Are they getting too much energy in their diet?

 - Is the silage quality good enough? Due to quality issues, are cows able to eat enough feed ?

 - Is a sufficient supply of clean water available before and after calving?

 - Are young cows or heifers being bullied in the group?

 - Are you feeding concentrates to dry cows? Are you feeding enough concentrates?

 - Are you using the correct concentrate; what is its protein content?

 - What dry cow mineral are you feeding? Are your dry cows getting any minerals?

 - Is the dry cow mineral good enough to match your forage and concentrate base?

 - Are dry cows getting sufficient mineral volumes? Check the recommended rate on the bags!

 - How are you managing fresh cows? Are they eating and drinking sufficiently in the hours after calving?

Among the above questions lies the most likely answer to your problem. It may be one specific issue, or a combination of a few issues.

Ensure that your cow’s environment is comfortable and suitable for purpose.

Whatever you do, make sure that you have supplied the cow’s basic nutrient requirements, for energy, protein, fibre, macro-minerals, micro-minerals, vitamins, and water.

Take action quickly

Seek advice from your vet and nutrition advisor as soon as possible.

If you have had a run of held cleanings or milk fever, don’t wait to “see how the next few get on”. It is a good idea to get both parties to consult with each other regarding your problem, this may result in a quicker resolution.

If silage is the cause of your problems, then you must try to dilute its effects by feeding straw and perhaps balancing that with some concentrates.

Obviously, straw is scarce this year, but if you can get your hands on it, it will be a big help, if you are having problems.

The right mineral is critical for your dry cow, particularly if you start to encounter problems.

Another sign that your dry cow diet needs to be adjusted is if you have weak calves after birth that are slow to stand up or drink milk.

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