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TDK conference 2016

Calving protocols on Irish dairy farms in the pre partum period; and their effect on post partum outcomes for both dam and calf from the aspect of health and welfare
O'Connor Mary - year 5
University of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Animal Hygiene, Herd Health, Veterinary Ethology
Supervisor: Dr. Viktor Jurkovich


The incidence of periparturient and post partum problems are heavily influenced by the calving protocols in place on dairy farms in Ireland. The protocols employed by farmers on dairy farms can have a great influence on calving outcomes and the health of calves at the end of the season. These calving protocols were investigated through the use of two questionnaires from 20 Irish dairy farms carried out in February 2016 (the start of calving season) and the results were then correlated to a follow up questionnaire in September 2016 (the end of the same calving season).

Aims of the study were to compare the calving management before calving, to the farms’ outcomes; in terms of dam and offspring health and welfare. The main aim was to correlate both sets of findings and to assess whether the most recent research supported the current practices which were being used on Irish dairy farms.

Results showed that 55% of calvings took place in individual pens compared to 45% that took place in group calving pens. 60% of farmers added new straw bedding once a day to these areas, 80% of respondents disinfected pens after every 5 calvings and 20% reported never disinfecting pens. 75% of farmers checked the progress of calving on average 5 times a day and 25% reported checking calving progress on average 3 times a day. 65% responded that they didn’t have any calving difficulty and 35% reported that calving difficulty was a minor problem on their farm. Only one respondent was found to have a written standard operating procedure protocol on their farm.

70% reported separating the cow and calf immediately but that there may be delays during night calvings. 70% reported giving the calves the colostrum within 2 hours post birth. 75% reported that they didn’t have navel problems and 100% reported that the sprayed the navels with iodine solution post birth. There were some differences in when farmers decided to move the pregnant cows to the calving area pre parturition – 20% reported at the first signs of calving and specified with udder filling with milk, 15% moved them when the legs or water bag had appeared, 15% at the time of dry off, 45% moved the cows 3 weeks pre parturition at the close up period.

It was evident from the follow up questionnaire that the average level of dystocia, retained foetal membranes, newborn navel infections, the diarrhoea affected calves or those suffering with respiratory issues within the first 2 weeks of life, had a low prevalence within each herd. These results adequately elucidated the importance of good calving protocols on farms and how such protocols can reduce health issues of both calf and dam in the post partum period. All of this evidence was supported by the most relevant and recent literature available on the topic. The lack of written standard operating procedure protocols at farm level was a significant finding from this study and is an area in which improvements could be made within the dairy industry.

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