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5 Oct 2020

Group division and change of group

Avoid changing environment and group close to expected calving

After staying in the dry-off group for typically one week, it is acceptable to house all the dry cows in the same group throughout the dry period right up until the switch to the calving box immediately before calving.

However, if the herd can subdivide the dry cows and establish a group of late pregnant cows that are very close to calving (a "close-up" group), it is an even better solution. This allows you to take special considerations into account about the individual cow (comfort, feeding space, etc.). If the herd has a "close-up" group, the cows should be moved there no later than 10 days before expected calving to avoid the accompanying stress of forming new hierarchies that may affect their feed intake.

Changing the environment and group very close to calving can impact the feed intake, which is already under pressure in the last weeks before calving. The feed intake naturally decreases because the foetus fills up more and because the cow's hormone levels are preparing to calve.

In the "close-up" group, it is important to avoid overcrowding and to secure the individual cow a space at the feeding table. This helps ensure that the reduced feed intake does not result in unnecessarily strong mobilization of energy before calving, which can lead to dry cow ketosis.

Avoid moving cows between groups more than once a week
Throughout the dry period, it is important to reduce the number of group shifts. After the dry-off, it is optimal that the individual cow is exposed to a maximum of three shifts:

  • From the dry-off group to the dry cow group
  • A possible move from the dry cow group to the "close-up" group
  • From the “close up” group to a joint or individual calving box

Each time new cows are introduced to a group, the cows spend energy on establishing a new rank order - and this will impact their feed intake during a critical period. Therefore, there should only be a change of cows between groups once per week, as this gives less overall time with unstable ranking in the groups.

Be careful of early isolation when calving
In the wild, cows typically retreat from the herd 3-5 hours before calving, and the cow generally prefers to calve alone. However, isolation from the other cows too early before the calving is stressful for the cow and can affect feed intake and promote the risk of metabolic problems after calving.

Therefore, the ideal setup is that the cow can be moved to a separate calving box with barriers when the calving is in progress. Then the cow can still see the herd from which she is separated, and she can fulfill her natural need to calve alone.