Postpartum Management in Dairy Cows

Table of Contents:


dovinevet International, Bovine Ultrasound Services & Herd Management, Spain

department of Animal Medicine and Surgery, Faculty of Veterinary and Experimental Sciences Catholic University of Valencia,

San Vincente Martir, Spain

*Corresponding author. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it


Modern cattle health management is basically based on prevention. This approach finds its natural justification in the fact that today it is necessary to guarantee the health of the consumer (through a proper and measured use of medicaments, in particular antibiotics and chemotherapy) and annual welfare. The economic aspect should not be underestimated: 70-75% of the cost of a disease depends on the lack of production. It, therefore, becomes natural to focus all health management on the prevention of pathologies. In the transition phase almost 70% of all cattle diseases are concentrated, therefore limiting the occurrence of diseases in this delicate period to a minimum is of fundamental importance. Equally important is the early diagnosis of sick cows, but above all the rapid identification of cows at risk. Electronic devices capable of creating a daily attention list of cows at risk of infirmity are available today. However, these systems can be completed or replaced by a careful observation of post-calving cows, integrating this clinical evaluation with collateral tests, which will allow determining which animals are at risk, also allowing them to establish a risk order.


The transition period is a critical time for dairy cattle (Overton and Fetrow, 2008). Didactically, this period is identified during the 2-3 weeks prior to delivery and the 2-3 weeks after delivery (Block, 2010). However, we must face this “period” with some flexibility, especially today, that nutritional management strategies, which until yesterday were considered “indisputable,” are questioned (diy off and close up). For this reason, the transition period could be started 30 days before the delivery and we could end it with the end of the voluntary waiting time, or with the first artificial insemination (AI).

During the transition period, the cow suffers from physiological changes (Goff et al., 1997; Drackley et al., 1999; Overton and Fetrow, 2008). The cow is preparing for calving and milk production, events that, especially for future primiparous heifers, they represent a true physiological “cyclone” (LeBlanc, 2013,2014).

We know that during the first part of the transition, ecological and zootechnical environment conditions must be created such as the cancellation or, at least, the drastic reduction of stress factors. In this way, the dry matter intake can be maintained high; in the primiparous, never should fall below 10-11 kg; while that in the cow, it should always be higher than 11-12 kg (Gnemmi et ah, 2018).

Especially during the first part of lactation, the nutrients deviate greatly toward the udder. The metabolism of glucose is altered and, as a consequence of the resulting hypoglycemia, the mobilization of fat and protein reserves begins (LeBlanc, 2013, 2014). The cow loses weight and cows that caimot compensate for these imposing transitions can develop puerperal diseases, that is, retention of fetal membranes, puerperal metritis, ketosis, abomasal displacement, etc. (LeBlanc, 2013, 2014).

This situation can affect to a different extent, even 30-50% of the cows (LeBlanc, 2010). The cows that develop pathologies during the transition period are often compromised their productive/reproductive capacity. Therefore, it is essential that the environmental and zootechnical management be such that it reduces or cancels the risk of diseases in the pre- and postpartum. In addition to this, we must try to identify the problem cows as soon as possible.

The productive and reproductive performance of the cow and herd is related to the incidence of different transition pathologies, but also, and probably above all, to the ability to identify problem animals very early.

In this regard, it is essential to observe the cattle, trying to identify the sick cows in each moment (Hulsen, 2003).


Eveiy postpartum pathology more or less compromises the animal’s productive and reproductive performance. If we take for example two pathologies of the uterus such as the retention of fetal membranes and metritis, analyzing the cost, we can see that the higher cost item refers not to veterinary costs and/or to the costs for medicalization. but to the failure production (Gnemmi et al., 2016) (Table 4.1).

In other studies, it has been seen that the cost of diugs is between 16 and 28% due to the use of an ampicillin or a third-generation cephalosporin, respectively. The cost of elimination (different because of parity, production, and Days in Milk (DIM) at the time of cow’s elimination) would affect between 22 and 26%, whereas the reduction in reproductive performance would affect the order of 28-33% (Overton and Fetrow, 2008).

Evaluating the cost of puerperal pathologies is a very complex analysis; the four main cost chapters must be taken into consideration, which in turn can be divided into 18 sub-chapters, of which veterinary expenses, labor costs, the cost for medicalization, the cost of eliminating contaminated milk from medicaments, and the lack of production are 5 of 18 items.

However, to look at it, it is clear that when a cow gets sick, the farmer starts to lose money. This is especially related to the greater predisposition of the bovine to develop, even in the postpartum, more than one pueiperal pathology. Due to the lack of production determined by the sanitary conditions in which the cow is found, its state of health is compromised by the greater risk that this animal develops other pueiperal pathologies. For all this, prevention on the one hand and the early identification of problem cows take on fundamental importance.

The goal is not to have and/or drastically reduce the number of sick cows during the transition period. This means focusing attention on four fundamental points of the management program (Gnemmi et al., 2019):

  • • Nutritional management
  • • Environmental management (ecological and zootechnical environment) and cow comfort


Day open cost (+ 30 dd)

>AI cost


Total cost

% Vet cost

% Drug

o/o Milk elim.


% Labor cost


180 €

88 €

85 €








180 €

88 €

85 €








180 €

88 €

85 €







Reprinted with permission from Gneimni et al., 2016.

  • • Handling drying period
  • • Prevention of pathologies (metabolic diseases, hypocalcemia, infection, etc.)

We must be able to identify sick cows and especially subclinical cows as soon as possible. A cow with retained placenta and/or metritis is not necessarily a sick cow. More than 50% of the cows with retention of the fetal membranes do not develop fever, which means they undergo spontaneous healing (Gilbert, 2008) and 55-70% of the cows with metritis have a spontaneous recoveiy (Santos et al., 2014) without where to resort to therapy, especially to antibiotic therapy. The ability to manage postpartum, that is, limiting the use of antibiotics only to the cows that really need it, has direct and indirect positive effects on the economic balance of the herd, but also on the welfare of the herd and consumer health.

Today, there are electronic detection systems, a kind of artificial intelligence, that allow the monitoring of several biological parameters. These systems can be applied as ear tags or as necklaces (www.scrdairy. com, 2019). They not only allow the identification of cows close to heat and/or in heat, or with disorders of the reproductive sphere (cystic degeneration of the ovaries), but also allow detecting body temperature, hours of rumination, resting hours, and the hours that the cow spends eating/drinking (, 2019). These systems detect the state of the animal every hour, sending all the information to a server, which collects and classifies all this data. In practice, it is possible to verify in real time the state (physiological or pathological, or close to the pathology) of the bovine.

These systems are no longer the future, but the present and, undoubtedly, in the coming years, will become crucial in the raising of livestock, especially in those farms that want to address the problem of reducing the drug (antibiotics and hormones), to through the reduction of sick cows in the transition period.

It is possible to monitor the herd in the postpartum period and identify the problems of the cows, even without the help of these technological supports. It is necessary to “only” observe the herd, veiy carefully, observing everything that seems to be nonphysiological. The observation is important; however, it is very useful to be able to recognize and remember the problem of the cow (Table 4.2).

Observe the cows to understand what they are telling us. We often do not understand what cows manifest, only because instead of observing we limit ourselves to look superficially without knowing how to grasp fundamental nuances.

TABLE 4.2 Postpartum Pathologies Acronyms.



Uterus Prolapse






Puerperal Metritis








We must be able to observe or be educated in observation. It is necessary to observe minutely and without prejudice (Hulsen, 2003).

What am I seeing? Why is it happening? What does it mean? Is it an individual problem or does it concern more cows? Which cows are interested in: all cows or just the lactating heifers? These are some of the questions that an attentive observer, walking in the postpartum group eveiy morning, must ask themselves. It is necessary to observe the cow completely, without leaving out the details. It is necessary to observe the cow, but also the ecological and zootechnical environment in which the cow is found. In practice, a precise evaluation of the cow is made both individually and collectively, without neglecting to observe the environment in which the cow lives, trying to understand the degree of adaptation and satisfaction of the cow and the group toward the ecological environment (light, climate, ventilation, cooling, flooring, berths, lanes, cleaning, etc.) and zootechnical environment (nutrition, quality of human management, etc.) in which the cow lives.

In this sense, an excellent strategy is to “write” in cows, between the iliac tuberosity and the ischial tuberosity, indicating with an acronym, the pathology that has affected the cow (Fig. 4.1).

On farms where the rectal temperature is detected daily in the first 10 days after calving, a row is applied every day, so that there are five rows on the right and five rows on the left at the end of the temperature monitoring. If the measured temperature is higher than 39.5°C, the line on the rump is made in a different color, so that the person looking at the cow, even if he/ she does not detect her number, can determine from how many days she delivered and, if so, when a thermal increase is determined (Fig. 4.2).

Acronym indicating pathology of affected cow

FIGURE 4.1 Acronym indicating pathology of affected cow.

Cow with high temperature; line on the rump is made in a different color

FIGURE 4.2 Cow with high temperature; line on the rump is made in a different color.

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