Dr. Gustavo M. Schuenemann, Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, The Ohio State University
A comprehensive calving management program involves many components, but one of the most important aspects for decision-making is valid and reliable records. Dairy farmers, consultants, and veterinarians often trouble-shoot calving-related losses within herd; however, the lack of meaningful records makes it difficult to implement effective corrective measures. Keeping accurate and complete records of calving-related events is key to reducing the prevalence of stillbirth around parturition and improving calf development. In many dairy herds, there are shared responsibilities for a given task, shift changes, turnover, absenteeism, and the subsequent communication challenges.
Dr. Gustavo M. Schuenemann has developed eCalving™, a touchscreen application (app), for dairy producers and personnel to easily record and manage calving-related records in real-time. The eCalving™ app is currently available for Android smart devices at www.ecalving.com within OSU Veterinary Extension, and it is free of charge and available for anyone who would like to utilize this tool to aid in their decision-making process. It is important to note that the timing and accuracy of data are always dependent on the willingness and cooperativeness of the individual recording the information. This user-friendly tool requires minimal training to use, but personnel must possess sound knowledge and skills regarding calving and colostrum management (what to look for and why it is important). Training for calving personnel is available from Dr. Gustavo M. Schuenemann at OSU Veterinary Extension upon request to increase technical knowledge, skills, and build teamwork. The app was designed to benefit herd-specific calving management programs by helping farms keep more accurate and complete records, and to monitor personnel adherence to established protocols and standard operating procedures (SOP). The app captures those calving-related events associated with stillbirth and calf development. Novel components of the app include:
- Login screen for individual herds.
- Capture of selected calving-related events for both dam and calf (e.g., parity, breed, body condition score, hygiene of perineum, calving ease, sex of calf, presentation, and personnel).
- Rolling list of active cows with an alarm to monitor calving progress and time in labor.
- Rolling list of active calves (single or multiple) within 24 hr after birth.
- Colostrum management practices (quality, quantity, time of administration, calf vigor, birth weights, and personnel).
A field study was conducted to assess the effectiveness of the eCalving™app in dairy herds (Barragan et al., 2015). Calving events collected by personnel (n = 23) from 6 large dairy operations (range: 900 – 5,000 cows) were recorded. Calving personnel reported that the information provided during the training was relevant (agree = 14.3% and strongly agree = 85.7%) and of great immediate use (agree = 33.3% and strongly agree = 66.7%). The app captured calving events and integrated multiple metrics with personnel performance (accounting for the effect of shift change), such as the dam (e.g., date-time of calving), colostrum (e.g., timing, quality, and quantity), and newborn calf (e.g., presentation and vigor). The follow-up assessment with participants revealed that the app was easy to use (91.3%) and that they would like to keep using it. These findings showed that decision-makers can monitor calving events and losses (magnitude and time) at the farm level while accounting for the effect of management.
Calving is an essential requirement of the production system in which cows initiate lactation and provide the future replacements for the herd. Too often, the success of calving management programs are evaluated only on the basis of calf survival, which substantially undervalues other factors contributing to superior management. Economic losses associated with dystocia can have severe consequences in dairy herds. It is known that dystocia increases the risk for stillbirth and maternal injury, leading to increased risk for uterine disease (metritis) and reduced milk yield and reproductive performance of lactating dairy cows (Curtis et al., 1983). Without considering medical and replacement costs, the percentage contribution of the total costs resulting from dystocic births was reported as 41% due to reduced milk yield, 33.4% due to reduced fertility, and 25% due to cow-calf losses (Dematawewa and Berger, 1997). Prevention of stillbirth (calf born dead or died within 24 hours after birth, normal gestation length) at the herd level requires an ongoing and constant effort with effective coordination of the whole system (animals, feed/water, facilities, environment, and personnel).
Considering the diversity of production systems, adoption of herd-specific management practices is critical to prevent calving-related losses (e.g., stillbirth, dam injury, and uterine diseases) without neglecting animal welfare and profitability. When designing calving protocols within-herd, it is important to keep in mind the risk factors associated with stillbirth. Difficult births at calving, backward presentations, calf gender (male), parity (primiparous cows), season (winter and spring), and the time around the shift change (calves born 1-hour before and after) of herd personnel have been associated with increased risk for stillbirth (Lombard et al., 2007; Schuenemann et al., 2011; Hunter et al., 2013). For instance, distribution of births with respect to season (daily or weekly birth rate) and the same number of calving personnel might increase the risk for stillbirth because of increased number of cows calving per unit of time and the real possibility of late intervention (unable to assist multiple cows with dystocia at the same time). A proactive calving management program should cover at a minimum the following five areas: (1) nutrition and reproductive management of replacement heifers (from birth to weaning, from weaning to breeding, and from breeding to calving) and dry cows; (2) appropriate calving and colostrum protocols and SOP; (3) efficient training and re-training of personnel; (4) calving-related records; and (5) adequate facilities. The eCalving™ app addresses point #4 (records) and the data collected can be used to assess the human element associated with points #2 (protocols and SOP) and #3 (training).
Curtis, C.R., H.N. Erb, C.J. Sniffen, R.D. Smith, P.A. Powers, M.C. Smith, M.E. White, R.B. Hilman, and E.J. Pearson. 1983. Association of parturient hypocalcaemia with eight periparturient disorders in Holstein cows. J. Am. Vet. Assoc. 183:559-561.
Barragan, A.A., J.D. Workman, S. Bas, K.L. Proudfoot, and G.M. Schuenemann. 2015. Assessment of an application to collect calving-related events in dairy herds. J. Dairy Sci. 99:39.
Dematawewa, C.B.M., and P.J. Berger. 1997. Effect of dystocia on yield, fertility, and cow losses and an economic evaluation of dystocia scores for Holsteins. J. Dairy Sci. 80:754-761.
Hunter, A., M.G. Maquivar, S. Bas, J.D. Workman, and G.M. Schuenemann. 2013. Assessment of work shift transition of calving personnel on stillbirth in Holstein dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 96:383.
Lombard, J.E., F.B. Garry, S.M. Tomlinson, and L.P. Garber. 2007. Impacts of dystocia on health and survival of dairy calves. J. Dairy Sci. 90:1751-1760.
Schuenemann, G.M., I. Nieto, S. Bas, K.N. Galvão, and J. Workman. 2011. Assessment of calving progress and reference times for obstetric intervention during dystocia in Holstein dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 94:5494-5501.