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Thursday, 29 September 2016 14:55

Take care with heifers

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Heifers with swollen udders may be difficult to handle and milk out. Heifers with swollen udders may be difficult to handle and milk out.

After calving, heifers are often uncomfortable because of swollen udders (oedema), and may be difficult to move, handle and milk out.

For young cows calving for the first time, the milking routine is a new experience.

It takes about two weeks for most heifers to establish a quiet, reliable response to milking. Milking staff must be patient and gentle during this period, to maximise production, minimise milking times and reduce risk of injury to milkers and animals.

Extra labour may be required at calving time.

Choose the heifer pre-calving management most suitable for the herd.

Some practical and highly effective ways to prevent mastitis in heifers include:

- Using internal teat sealant about four weeks before the planned start of calving.

- Spraying teats with normal teat disinfectant two-three times per week for the last three weeks before calving.

- Picking up calves twice daily and milking animals within 9-12 hours after calving.

The choice of strategy for an individual herd will depend on:

- Gap in performance between incidence of clinical mastitis and industry targets.

- Costs, potential risks and likely benefits of each approach.

- Availability of infrastructure for safe administration of internal teat sealants to heifers pre-calving.

- Opportunities to teat spray regularly before calving.

- Labour availability to pick up newly-born calves twice per day and bring animals to be milked.

Herds experiencing more than 16 cases of clinical mastitis per 100 heifers within the first two weeks of lactation (or eight cases per 50 heifer calvings) should consider ways to reduce heifer mastitis.

Discuss options and potential costs with your veterinarian. Use of antibiotics in heifers at calving time is not recommended due to high costs and the risk of antibiotic residues in
milk.

It’s also important to train heifers in the milking area before calving. It takes about two weeks for heifers to familiarise themselves with the surroundings of the milking area and entry and exit routes, and to establish a quiet, predictable routine.

To maximise production and minimise risk of injury to milkers and animals, milking staff must be patient and gentle during this time.

The first two weeks of milking can be made a lot easier if heifers are trained prior to calving, starting with just walking to the dairy yard and holding them for a short period, building up to turning on machines and walking them through the dairy. Take this opportunity to teat spray.

Using an internal teat sealant in heifers can also be the time to familiarise heifers with the dairy and yards four-six weeks before calving.

Take your time moving animals into the farm dairy -- don’t rush. This minimises injury to udders and teats, and contributes to cows being comfortable during milking. Encourage the co-operation of the cow by gentle animal husbandry – don’t rush.

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