Autumn housing is a stressful time of year for dairy cows (as it can be for all livestock), and can lead to an increased incidence of disease and resulting loss of production. Tom Jackson gives us an overview of things to watch out for…

Things such as change in diet, increased stocking density and potential mixing of groups that have grazed separately during the preceding months can all conspire together to open the door for clinical disease to affect the herd. Working to minimise the associated risk factors of housing can help to reduce any negative impact upon your cows.

Reassess cow accommodation

Before bringing the cows back in, have a think – are there enough cubicles for the number of cows? Aim for at least 5% more cubicles than cows as a minimum; too few cubicles can increase the incidence of both lameness and mastitis in addition to increasing social aggression between cows.

Ensure also that there is adequate feed and water trough space. If any of these things are compromised then it is likely that lower ranking or weaker animals will suffer as they struggle to compete for access to beds, feed and water. Reduced dry matter intakes will subsequently affect yield, and increased standing time in passageways can cause an increase in the prevalence of lameness and claw lesions.

Websites such as the AHDB contain a wealth of information on housing design, including feed and water trough allocations, passage widths and cubicle layout so are well worth a look.

Bovine respiratory disease

One of the most commonly seen problems following autumn housing. Increased stocking density and a rise in ambient humidity provide the perfect conditions for pathogens to multiply and spread. Work with us to create a vaccination protocol that ensures that all animals are fully vaccinated against IBR well before the day of housing – failure to do so can lead to a costly outbreak of clinical disease!

Bovine Herpesvirus 1 (the virus that causes IBR) is endemic in the UK, and the majority of dairy herds have “wild-type” virus circulating at all times. Even if there are no discernible signs of clinical disease, it is likely that the subclinical effects will be suppressing yield – herd vaccination can often increase the amount of milk going in to the tank!

Symptoms of IBR:

  • High temperature
  • Noisy breathing
  • Coughing
  • Red and crusty nose
  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Red and discharging eyes
  • Progression to severe pneumonia

Parasitic disease

Parasites picked up during late-season grazing (when pasture burdens are often at their highest) have the potential to cause problems throughout the housing period if not dealt with correctly. Diagnostic tests such as faecal worm egg counts and Liver Fluke antibody serology can aid you in decision-making regarding treatment at housing. Your routine vet will be happy to discuss this with you and advise on the most suitable plan for testing and treatment.

Disease prevention at housing