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By Mikaela Baker (B. Ag Sci), TRAC Ruminant Productivity Consultant

Earlier this year Owen Rees wrote an article on how to feed and manage a fresh cow. He covered what is going on physiologically and explained why a fresh cow diet and smooth transition is so important. As a high number of farms are now AYR calving, checking calving statistics becomes much more important. To help get the cow to that point, let's go over what a good pre-calving program and calving process looks like.

Prior to cows calving, a lead feed diet is essential to getting the cow prepared to enter the milking herd and provide optimal nutrition for her to calve down without any challenges.

Calving may seem to be going well because on reflection, it is much the same as last season and that was much the same as the year before. When consistency is achieved that is a fantastic outcome for both the cows and management for reliable results. However, it is important to take a review of what is going on and if that is the best that can be achieved.

What does “a good calving” look like? Looking at the statistics of what a healthy program looks like is a great step, especially when paired with seasonal benchmarking against your own farm. What we don’t measure, we can’t improve.

According to Dairy Australia, below is the goal of calving issues you should be seeing in your herd. With all health issues, where anything exceeds 5% is a major concern.



Milk Fever


Retained Foetal Membranes (RFMs) - excl. issue cows, assisted, twins






Assisted Calvings




Stillbirths Calves born dead or died with 48hrs


We highly recommend keeping a log of each event at calving. The most important element to note is that most calving health issues follow the iceberg theory; where there are some clinical cases seen, there are many more unseen sub-clinical cases that are costing milk production or days to conception. It is the sub-clinical diseases that often cost the most financially to a business because they often go untreated.

Training is essential to all staff members involved in any portion of pre, during, and post-calving management. Veterinary advice is an excellent avenue to ensure consistent advice with no bad habits passed on. Understanding what different issues look like, will allow faster treatment and lower long-term impacts. When calculating stillbirths, most of these calves are born alive but die soon after, this can occur from cow management pre-calving or improper care of the newborn calf.

A healthy calving requires cereal hay being purchased well in advance of the event, allowing time to have a feed analysis and wet chemistry mineral analysis performed to get a dietary cation-anion balance (DCAD). Cereal hay is the highest quantity of food cows consume for the 3 weeks prior to calving, so selecting a good quality hay, specifically for a lead feed diet, is essential. Challenges arise when the mineral analysis is not suitable for pre-calving cows, the protein is too low, or even if the cereal hay is too good of quality and has very high sugars. The second step is having a custom grain mix made in time to suit the cows, their history of diseases, and the quality of the cereal hay.

Prior to calving, a large demand is put on the cows to finish growing their foetus and producing nutrient-rich colostrum. This period requires a special balance of dietary minerals to support these processes and the activity of giving birth. The time it takes for cows to recover post-birth will play a role in time to conception, subclinical metabolic diseases, and total lactation milk production. A few specific nutrients we look at for this period are high levels of vitamins fed daily, especially Vitamin E. A common dietary plan prior to calving is decreasing calcium to allow the cow to mobilise their own bone calcium for calving. This is important; however calcium is still required for daily muscle function and calving, therefore the balance of all minerals to create a negative DCAD diet while still providing essential minerals and vitamins is critical for cow longevity and overall health.

The environment plays a large role in the health, immune function, and wellbeing of the cow. Stress plays an important factor in all areas of the lactation cycle of dairy cows, however, it can sometimes be overlooked in the pre-calving area. Stress can be physical, social, nutritional, and psychological. When cows are stressed, their energy usage increases and their immune response decreases, making them more susceptible to becoming sick. Well known areas that can cause stress to cows include:

  • Nutrition: Low-quality feed, low availability of feed, dirty/mouldy feed, dirty water, limited feed, or water access.

  • Overcrowding: Specifically important to pre-fresh and fresh cows. Cows must compete for feed and lying space, particularly challenging for shy or low social status cows.

  • Social instability: Moving cows between groups, which can happen several times prior to calving.

  • Environment: Such as muddy environments. Additionally, where cows are in too much mud they don’t lie down as much. Cows must be able to lie down to complete a portion of their sleep critical to immune function.

  • People & dogs: Pushing cows too hard or fast, making them jog, barking dogs, dogs that stay close on their heels. Any interaction where cows are not in a comfortable relaxed state.

Keeping cows in a comfortable, relaxed environment with a diet balanced specifically for them will provide the foundations for a good lactation through one of their most critical periods that establish their annual output. Maintaining records and monitoring specific conditions that are a concern will allow you to focus on what can be improved. So continue to protect the efficiency and profitability of the business moving forward in the long run, by simply write down the number of calving problems and tally it up at the end of calving, as this will better the continuous improvement process for a Healthier Calving.

For more information on the critical success factors for a HEALTHIER CALVING, please contact your local TRAC Expert.


Our Consultants


Tom Thorn

0427 243 319

Owen Rees

0429 437 823

Mikaela Baker

0457 243 319


To download a copy of this article, please click the link below...

Healthier Calving_Nov2021
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