Before we know it, we are back at calving and things will get busy again. It is always a good idea to think and plan ahead. There are things we can do to minimise lameness before the season starts: lameness management does not start at calving but at drying off. What you do between now and calving has a big impact on the season to come.

I have talked in previous articles about the effect of a lack of resting time on lameness. You need to make sure your cows can lay down in a comfortable dry spot. I think this is an issue that is too often overlooked and should be taken seriously. I am strongly opposed to having cows on winter crop paddocks without access to a grass paddock. I am not a ‘greeny’ and I am not unrealistic when it comes to cow comfort. Cows are not human beings and as such, they can handle a lot more when it comes to weather conditions. But I do believe that we, as farmers, have the responsibility to provide an environment for our cows where they can function well. Muddy paddocks do not fit those criteria – but that is not what I really wanted to focus on this month.

Calving is a risk period for cows. During this time, they undergo changes in diet, daily routine, environment, staff, and on top of that, a lot of hormonal changes. Specifically, influential here is a hormone called Relaxin which has a big impact on the ligaments in the foot. This can result in significant haemorrhage as the pedal bone (the last bone in the cow’s foot that sits inside the claw) presses onto the live tissue. You cannot do anything about this hormone; its production is necessary for the cow to be able to push her calf out.

Instead, there is a heightened need to focus on other factors that have an impact on the health of live tissue. The key here is to minimise stress, especially for dominant heifers. They have never calved before, they have never been milked before, and are now suddenly subject to the more dominant older cows. All those stresses add up. So again, try to control the ones you can. If possible, keep heifers in their own herd. Make sure you fully feed them with a sensible diet, handle them with patience and keep waiting time to a minimum.

You may wonder what I mean with waiting time. It is basically the time when a cow is not in the paddock engaging in normal cow behaviour (grazing, drinking, resting and socializing). A cow walking to and from the cowshed is classed as a waiting cow just like the one that is standing in the yard, waiting to be milked.

Now is the time to think about these things and plan for a cow friendly farm environment.