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Checklist of a healthy cow

Checklist of a healthy cow

Happy and Healthy cows should be the priority for any dairy farmer to maximize productivity from the herd and realize profits. The behavior and physical signs provides the opportunity to tell the well being of a cow. The checklist below helps us respond to the management, veterinary and nutritional adjustments for the well being of a cow.

Alertness - A healthy cow should be alert and powerful, with full stomach and glossy skin.

Temperature - A normal cow should have a temperature ranging between 38 to 39°C. Cold ears for instance indicate milk fever or problems in blood circulation.

Breathing - A healthy cow should have normal breathing between 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Faster breathing rate indicate heat stress or fever.

Rumen fill - The left side of the stomach should protrude when a cow has eaten well. When you press the fist into the rumen, it should be contracted firmly about 10 to 12 times for five minutes.

Digestion rate - This can be told from the manure. If you feed on very large feed particles, undigested parts become clearly visible in the manure.

Rumination - Rumination should occur for seven to ten hours per day, 40 to 70 times on each cud. Less time in rumination calls for ration adjustments.

Hooves - A Healthy cow stands still and straight while eating. If she tips or walks with lame gait then there is poor hoof health or poor floors.

Manure - Should not be too be soupy, not very flat when it falls on a hard surface or form stiff balls and should never have undigested particles.

Udder - Udder Suspension ranges from very tight to very pendulous. Weak udder attachment results in pendulous udders that make it difficult for a calf to nurse and is due to poor support in the ligament that ties the udder to the cow’s body. Poor udders require additional labor and veterinary inputs thereby decreasing the farm’s profitability as good udder quality imply a cow’s longevity due to lower incidence of mastitis or injury.

Teat Size - Different cows’ teats ranges from very small to very large and balloon shaped. This is subject to assessments of teat length and circumference. Teats that are oversized are difficult for newborn calves to nurse hence limiting colostrum, leading to higher incidences of scours or decreased immunity levels of the newborn calf. Good teats have natural colour and flexible. Poor udder health is caused by unhygienic conditions, poor milking or inadequate feed rations.

Legs and locomotion - The condition of a cow’s legs dictates her locomotion. Skinned or bruised heels are mainly caused by poor bedding materials or hoof infection. A cow should be able to stand and walk normally. A cow should not stand or walk with the back arched and bearing the weight partially. Locomotion signs help in early detection of hoof disorders and monitoring lameness.

Body Condition Score (BCS) - This helps to attain improved reproduction and feed efficiency. The score assessment is by visual estimate of body energy reserves and the key areas include hooks, pins, ribs, backbone and tail-head. The times to conduct score are at 60-90 days before calving, weaning, calving and beginning of the breeding season. BCS allows for sorting cows according to their nutritional needs hence improving nutrition program efficiency. An extremely emaciated cow has the tail-head and ribs projected prominently with no fat detectable over the backbone and hips. A thin cow has the ribs less sharp but definable with little fat on spine. A moderate cow has a good overall appearance and palpable fat cover on the ribs. A good cow has fleshy condition carrying a considerable spongy fat over her ribs with round tail-head the pelvis can be felt. A fat cow is very fleshy and over-conditioned with large fat deposits over her ribs and around tail-head, the backbone is almost impossible to palpate. An extremely fat cow has the hips buried in fat tissue and looks completely blocky. She may have impaired mobility and her bone structure no longer visible and pelvis impalpable even with very firm pressure.

Housing - The body of a cow really tells its owners. If one side of the cow has dung smears, then the bedding material is poor and should be changed and ensured dry. If possible, provide cow mattresses. Most units have hard floor materials; however you should avoid potholes, sharp objects as stones to reduce the chances of hoof injury to the cow.

General handling - Quiet cow handling reduces cow stress and makes her easier to handle and produce more milk. When calling a cow try using a friendly voice not a harsher tone of voice that could scare her. When approaching a nervous cow, use her shoulder as a guide to approach her from the side, instead of her front or back. When you approach her from the side, she doesn’t realize you are getting closer and don’t look at her directly with your eyes.