Reducing metabolic disorders during the transition period

by Nicolas Marquis

The transition period in dairy production is THE critical period in the life of a milking cow. This is something everyone can agree on.

This period of change and adaptation, in terms of physiology, metabolism and behaviour, brings a certain level of stress that provokes immunosuppression, which is to say a decrease in the immune system’s ability to fight disease and infection. This is why the first research about a cow’s transition was focused on the immune system. These research initiatives brought about a better understanding of a dairy cow’s needs that would then allow for the optimization of the cow’s immune status during this period. The increased presence of free fatty acids in the blood flow, and triglycerides in the liver due to the greater mobilization of reserves, also has an impact on immunity.

Research was also undertaken to minimize the impact of the NEB (negative energy balance) at the beginning of lactation. Hypocalcaemia has proven to be the precursor of several metabolic disorders. Researchers have found solutions to this problem, therefore the appearance of anionic rations to better manage the cation-anion balance. We also better understand the effect of nutrients, such as protected choline and niacin, for their roles in protecting the liver (hepatoprotective role).

All these concepts are relatively well understood by nutritionists, but they still need to be able to identify the precursors to these problems in the herd!

Managers of dairy operations do understand these aspects very well and have developed “home-made” methods to monitor their cows. Several of them watch all the cows in transition to detect the precursors of pre-calving metabolic disorders during the transition period. Some even use charts to enter their data. Therefore, at a simple glance, they have a glimpse of the situation and can intervene if necessary. Other owners follow specific data entry protocols (BHB, temperature, etc.) and take corrective measures in these regards. Some are equipped with more complex protocols for each cow that calves. And still others take pride in their new acquisition, Herd Navigator, to assist them in this task. There are so many ways to operate to achieve the same goal, just make sure you prevent what is preventable!  

Of course, there are commercial products that exist to overcome these problems. For example, there are degreasers for the liver as part of the TRANSILACMC program which also includes a balanced intake of nutrients for fresh cows that have just calved. But nothing works better than a good set of records for effective screening.

When you know that any metabolic disorder in the transition period can affect milk production in one way or another, it’s a situation worth paying attention to!

Transilac is a trademark of La Coop fédérée


Nicolas Marquis's picture

Nicolas is a dairy specialist at La Coop fédérée.