Three must-haves to minimize fresh cow stress, help build immunity

By Michele Barrett, DVM, U.S. Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis 

It’s no secret that keeping fresh cows healthy can help improve production, but managing cow comfort can prove challenging in stressful environments. 

During the fresh period, cows’ energy requirements often exceed their dry matter intake, creating a negative energy balance that can impact their immune system. Pen moves, especially to the hospital pen, also can affect fresh cows’ health by exposing them to disease-causing pathogens and prompting stress-related decreases in appetite. 

While these stressors are hard to avoid, they can put fresh cows at a greater risk for developing metritis1, infectious mastitis2 and Salmonella.3 A higher rate of disease in fresh cows can affect your bottom line by negatively impacting milk production and increasing treatment expenses.  

Use these tips to help support fresh cows’ immune systems and minimize stress during the fresh period:

Maintain a healthy environment: Keep pens clean and dry to minimize vulnerable cows’ exposure to disease-causing pathogens. Also consider decreasing stocking density in the fresh pen and allow greater access to the feed bunk to help cows get the nutrition and energy they need to support immune function. 

Reduce social stress: When cows change pens, it can take up to three days for them to re-establish social structure.4 In the meantime, sick cows impacted by social stress spend less time laying down, which can reduce their overall comfort. One way to avoid pen moves when fresh cows become sick is to choose an antibiotic with zero milk discard. This will help keep milk in the bulk tank while helping to minimize social stress.

Train employees to spot disease sooner: Treatment success improves when sick cows are identified earlier in the disease process. Help improve health outcomes by training your staff to watch for early signs of illness:

o Decreased dry matter intake — check the temperature of cows that might be hanging back from the bunk to detect a possible fever

o Dehydration — “depressed cows” with sunken, dull eyes or poor rumen fill 

o Drop in production or reduced udder fill — fresh cow udders should be full and tight

Tune in to the latest Dairy Wellness Podcast to learn more about how you can support fresh cow immune systems and reduce stress.

About Zoetis
Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2018, the company generated annual revenue of $5.8 billion with approximately 10,000 employees. For more information, visit

For more information, contact: 
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Dorothy Tate
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(262) 223-5617

1 Huzzey et al. Prepartum behavior and dry matter intake identify dairy cows at risk for metritis. J Dairy Sci. 2007. Jul;90(7):3220-33. 
2 Punyapornwithaya et al. Incidence and transmission of Mycoplasm bovis mastitis in Holstein dairy cows in a hospital pen: a case study. Prev Vet Med. 2011 Jan 1;98(1):74-8. 
3 Cobbold RN, Rice DH, Davis MA, Besser TE, Hancock DD. Long-term persistence of multi-drug-resistant Salmonella enterica serovar Newport in two dairy herds. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;228(4):585-591. 
4 Bøe KE, Færevik G. Grouping and social preferences in calves, heifers and cows. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2003;80(3):175-190.



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