Early post calving health problems and subsequent milk yield

 Discipline: health;                                                                                        

In a joint study between Elsenburg and the University of Stellenbosch, the question whether health problems immediately after calving affect milk yield negatively, was addressed between calving and 14 weeks thereafter. A total of 67 Holstein cows with more than one lactation was monitored daily during the first 10 days post calving for signs of lameness and retained placentas. Lameness was defined as any abnormality that caused cows to change their walking gait while retained placenta was defined as placental membranes visible in the vulva for at least 24hours after calving. Cows were assessed individually, after the morning milking session at 08h00, while being held in a head clamp. The rectal temperature of the cows was recorded for the first 10 days after calving and averaged for each cow. Following the 10 day post-calving monitoring period, cows were introduced to their respective lactation feeding programme until 14 weeks after calving. Milk yield and live weight were recorded daily using the Afikim milk recording system. Every five weeks, milk samples were collected and analysed to determine milk composition according to standard milk recording procedures. In the statistical analysis, the milk production of healthy cows was compared with cows showing lameness and/or retained placenta.

The 10-day averaged rectal temperature ranged between 38.1 to 39.2°C. Retained placentas and lameness after calving were clearly associated with higher rectal temperatures during the first 10 days post calving and with milk loss up to the 14 weeks of measurement. Milk composition, however, was not affected in cows with these health problems. The results suggest that milk loss, and therefore income, are highly likely to occur when cows experience lameness and/or retained placentas. It appears that the higher rectal temperature and milk loss can be related to the discomfort of lameness and the pain caused by uterine infection, which in this instance is associated with retained placentas.      


Useni, B.H., Muller, C.J.C. & Cruywagen, C.W., 2013. The effect of early post calving health problems on the milk yield of Holstein dairy cows. SASAS Congress 2013, Salt Rock, KZN.