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8 tips to help manage the dairy cow transition period

8 tips to help manage the dairy cow transition period

One of the most challenging periods in the dairy cow cycle is the transition period around calving. It spans the time three weeks pre-calving and three to four weeks post-calving.

Major changes and challenges for the cow include:

  • Digestive challenges: The transition from a forage-rich diet to a lactating diet, rich in concentrates, represents challenges for the cow’s digestive system. In the rumen, the passage rate is increased, microbiota and fermentation profiles, rumen pH, and the rumen wall are also affected (Figure 1). This is supported by recent research into the microbial and physiological signs of transition challenges, including more recent metagenomics findings.
  • A negative energy balance, as nutritional requirements rise while there is a drop-in feed intake.
  • Increased oxidative stress, which can translate into lower immunity and higher disease occurrence.

the chain of events that links dietary transition to impaired rumen health involves rumen microbiota changes

If not managed properly, this period can lead to metabolic disorders, insufficient milk production, loss of productivity and reduced body condition. All this will affect long-term health, reproduction, and longevity for the cow. In addition, the calf can show sub-optimal performance during lactation, which has a lasting impact on its future production cycle.

Here are some practical recommendations to help address dairy cow transition challenges, which can help preserve a cow’s potential for the future:

  1. Ensure optimum bunk space to maximize feed intake
  2. Limit pen moves and social stress
  3. Favor high DMI by aiming for 2% of body weight pre-calving; 3% post-calving.
  4. Adapt close-up and fresh cow diets:
    • Energy: close-up diet: 1.62Mcal/kg DM; fresh cow diet: 2.06Mcal/kg DM
    • Crude protein: close-up diet: 12-14%; fresh cow diet: 17-18%
    • Provide effective fiber with adequate particle size (at least 30% NDF in close-up diet; > 27% in the fresh cow diet)
  5. Use of research-proven rumen modifier to control rumen pH: cerevisiae CNCM I-1077
  6. Feed good quality forage.
  7. Ensure optimal silage preservation to increase forage feeding value
  8. Implement a good antioxidant program to protect immunity, fertility, longevity and ensure calf transfer

Published Apr 15, 2020 | Updated May 29, 2023

Dairy cow