Fresh-cow handling practices and methods for identification of health disorders on 45 dairy farms in California

A. Espadamala, P. Pallarés, A. Lago, Noelia Silva Del Rio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The aim of the present study was to describe fresh-cow handling practices and techniques used during fresh cow evaluations to identify postpartum health disorders on 45 dairy farms in California ranging from 450 to 9,500 cows. Fresh cow practices were surveyed regarding (a) grouping and housing, (b) scheduling and work organization, (c) screening for health disorders, and (d) physical examination methods. Information was collected based on cow-side observations and responses from fresh cow evaluators. Cows were housed in the fresh cow pen for 3 to 14 (20%), 15 to 30 (49%), or >31 (31%) d in milk. Fresh cow evaluations were performed daily (78%), 6 times a week (11%), 2 to 5 times a week (9%), or were not routinely performed (2%). There was significant correlation between the duration of fresh cow evaluations and the number of cows housed in the fresh pen. Across all farms, the duration of evaluations ranged from 5 to 240 min, with an average of 16 s spent per cow. During fresh cow checks, evaluators always looked for abnormal vaginal discharge, retained fetal membranes, and down cows. Dairies evaluated appetite based on rumen fill (11%), reduction of feed in the feed bunk (20%), rumination sensors (2%), or a combination of these (29%). Milk yield was evaluated based on udder fill at fresh cow checks (40%), milk flow during milking (11%), milk yield records collected by milk meters (2%), or a combination of udder fill and milk meters (5%). Depressed attitude was evaluated on 64% of the dairies. Health-monitoring exams for early detection of metritis were implemented on 42% of the dairies based on rectal examination (13%), rectal temperature (22%), or both (7%). Dairies implementing health-monitoring exams took longer to perform fresh cow evaluations. Physical examination methods such as rectal examination, auscultation, rectal temperature evaluation, and cow-side ketosis tests were used on 76, 67, 38, and 9% of dairies, respectively. Across dairies, we found large variation in signs of health disorders screened and how those signs were evaluated. Fresh cows were primarily evaluated based on nonspecific and subjective observations during screening. Future research efforts should focus on developing and validating scoring systems to more objectively identify health disorders in postpartum cows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9319-9333
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • health disorder screening
  • postpartum cow
  • survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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