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Herd Health

Find information about mastitis, transition cows, vaccination protocols, working with your veterinarian, hoof care and hoof trimming.

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Lameness is recognized as a problem in most dairy herds throughout the world. Producers and herd managers agree it is an ever-present challenge and that with modern dairy management practices, lameness rates continue to rise. A recent University of Minnesota study observed 5,626 cows housed in 50 freestall barns. The average lameness rate was 24.6 percent. Surprisingly, this rate averaged 3.1 times greater than estimated by the herd managers.

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The current trend in animal agricultural food production is to look at “process control” rather than “product control.” Process control can be defined as how the food is produced, whereas product control means how the product turns out. Consumers, in general, have great confidence in the quality of agricultural food products, but they are becoming more aware of agricultural production practices. This awareness has led to increased concern over how their food is produced. Dairy producers that have implemented written health protocols will be on the leading edge of assuring consumers their food is being produced in a manner in which they can abide.

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Many minerals have been proven in research studies to be essential for optimal growth, physiologic function and productivity in ruminants. Historically, testing for these minerals has been performed on diets or dietary components to ensure adequate concentrations of specific minerals in the diet. However, general mineral analysis does not identify the chemical forms of these minerals, which can dramatically alter their bioavailability and utilization.

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Extensive research in a number of livestock industries around the world has identified the impact of the interactions between stockpeople (animal handlers) and farm animals on farm animal behavior, welfare and productivity. Specifically, relationships between the animal’s fear of humans and productivity of animals have been found in the dairy industry and also in the egg, meat chicken and pig industries.

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Because of costs associated with the construction and maintenance of freestall barns, dairy farmers may limit the number of feeding and resting places available for cows in order to maximize utilization of facilities. Facility design, such as whether there are two or three rows of stalls per feedline, may also influence the number of cows that have to share a particular resource. However, the impact of overcrowding on cow behavior, welfare and productivity should be considered.

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Milk fever is a disorder affecting about 6 percent of dairy cows each year in the United States. Subclinical milk fever, defined as blood calcium (Ca) concentration falling below 8 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), occurs in up to 50 percent of older cows during the days immediately following calving. The decline in blood calcium concentration near calving represents a breakdown in the calcium homeostatic mechanisms of the body. Blood Ca in the adult cow is maintained around 8.5 to 10 mg/dl. There are 3 grams Ca in the plasma pool and only 8 to 9 grams Ca in all the extracellular fluids (outside of bone) of a 1,300-pound cow. The fluid within the canaliculi of bone may contain another 6 to 15 grams Ca; the size of this Ca pool being dependent on the acid-base status of the animal (larger during acidosis and smaller during alkalosis).

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