About Dairy Wellness

Hospital pen moves can be risky
Posted by Mark Kirkpatrick

Let’s face it, no one likes to go to the hospital. Not even your cows. Although we think of a hospital as a place to get well, that’s not always the case for your cows. Moving cows to a hospital pen with a group of sick cows can pose serious risks.1 

Consider these risk factors and discuss them with your veterinarian:

  • Social stress — Moving fresh cows into a hospital pen can create social stress and reduce performance. Each pen move requires a cow to familiarize herself with new surroundings and re-establish her social rank in the new group. Studies show it takes two to five days for a group of cows to become socially stable after a pen move.2 Production can suffer.3
  • Contracting another disease — Cows have naturally weakened immune systems following calving, and moving a sick cow to the hospital pen can increase her likelihood of contracting a new infection. A cow can be 11 times more likely to contract Salmonella bacteria in a hospital pen than anywhere else on the dairy.4
  • Disease proliferation among the herd — When in a hospital pen, cows can become carriers of diseases. They might not show signs of a clinical infection but can return to their regular pen carrying it with them. Without showing symptoms, cows with subclinical Salmonella infections can shed the bacteria to their herdmates, affecting the entire dairy.
  • Financial implications — Treating a sick cow for one illness costs less than treating a sick cow for multiple illnesses, not to mention treating a number of cows. When you also factor in lost productivity, the cost of a sick herd quickly adds up.

Download this worksheet to help you determine pen moves on your dairy and how you can minimize effects on performance.

Work with your veterinarian to set up protocols to help avoid hospital pen moves, especially for fresh cows, and help protect dairy wellness.

1 Punyapornwithaya V, Fox LK, Hancock DD, Gay JM, Wenz JR, Alldredge JR. Incidence and transmission of Mycoplasma bovis mastitis in Holstein dairy cows in a hospital pen: A case study. Prev Vet Med 2011;98(1):74-78.

2 Boe KE, Faerevik G. Grouping and social preferences in calves, heifers and cows. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2003;80(3):175-190.

3 von Keyserlingk MA, Olenick D, Weary DM. Acute behavioral effects of regrouping dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2008;91(3):1011-1016.

4 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.


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