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Use health protocols to improve decision making


With calving under way for many herds, combined with the madness and work load that is indicative of this time of year, there is always the potential risk of daily hiccups, especially when it comes to animal health. One such example is the incidence of cows going down sometime during the calving.

In reality, it's no surprise when you consider the huge metabolic and hormonal changes that occur around calving. When presented with a cow which is down, our initial thought is to assume and treat for milk fever.

However, is this the correct diagnosis and is calcium the right treatment?

For many of you, years of experience have given an inherent sense of symptoms to look out for, and the management required when diagnosing this problem. But where new staff have been employed either for management or general labour, or where a younger family member has taken over the management of the farm, how can you, the experienced farmer, pass on his/her knowledge and help such an individual make the right decisions?

Protocols have become a recent buzz word, but they do have a place when the workload is high and a series of quick and logical decisions are required.

While I was working in New Zealand I came across such a protocol to help farmers/staff make the right diagnosis for downer/wobbly cows (see graphic).

Obviously this decision graphic is to aid you or others in providing specific and aggressive treatment to these conditions.

Cross reference it with your vet to see whether such a protocol is appropriate for your farm. Remember, too, to provide down cows with dry, soft bedding, fresh water and encourage appetite by providing highly palatable feeds.

As with most things, prevention is also better than cure, so make sure you're providing sufficient elemental magnesium each day in the month pre-calving and post-calving.

Protocols to aid decision making can be used in all areas of the dairy farming business, eg calf-rearing/scours, mastitis diagnosis and treatment, especially where there is an existing or new employee, or when trying to mitigate against a degree of inexperience.

Consider using your own knowledge and experience to create and provide a quick decision tool and save time and money in the long run.

Dr Mary Kinston is a farm consultant based in Kerry. Email:

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