Dairy cow transition is a journey impacted by a myriad of management practices and influences. The more we learn about this critical period, the more we come to understand its influence on cow health and performance during the current lactation – and into the next. Three critical tools to help cows better navigate this journey include:

Feed a ration balanced for DCAD postcalving

Lowering dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) prior to calving is an important strategy to reduce incidence of metabolic disorders during transition. But, don’t forget to increase ration DCAD levels postpartum. 

Research presented at the 2014 American Dairy Science Association annual meeting offers evidence of positive DCAD’s influence on lactating cow performance and health. The data also show many dairies currently feed rations with insufficient DCAD levels—and are missing opportunities to positively impact productivity and profitability.

A University of Maryland meta-analysis* showed a linear response to increasing DCAD levels for a number of key production parameters. For example, for each 10-point increase in DCAD increased:

  •  milk fat percentage 0.10%
  • milk fat grams per day by 0.35
  • rumen pH by 0.033
  • NDF digestibility by 1.5
  • fat-corrected milk (FCM)/dry matter intake by 0.013

“We don’t know that there’s an upper DCAD limit at this point, but most herds can increase lactating-cow ration DCAD levels as an opportunity to increase milk fat production, for example,” noted Dr. Rich Erdman, University of Maryland professor of animal science.

2. Maximize dietary metabolizable protein 

Metabolizable protein (MP) supplies the amino acids cows need for growth, maintain body condition, produce milk and support fetal growth. Therefore, it is critical that cows receive proper levels of dietary MP—not crude protein (CP) —in pre- and postcalving rations. 

Metabolizable protein absorbed by the cow is a combination of rumen undegradable protein, microbial protein synthesized from rumen degradable protein and a small amount of endogenous or recycled protein.*

While CP is the age-old standard used to calculate feedstuff prices, the MP value to the cow (and your return) from two similarly priced products can differ by 30%-40%. Evaluate feed ingredients and include those that reliably enhance dietary MP levels, which in turn increase overall animal health, production and efficiency.  

3. Feed Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids

Data from five recent on-farm trials – representing a wide geography and different management styles – illustrate the positive health impacts obtained by adding Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) to transition cow diets. All cows in these trials were fed EFAs prepartum. Results showed those rations:

  • resulted in a lower 1st Linear Somatic Cell Score in every herd in the trials
  • resulted in less embryonic death (defined as animals returning to service at 35 days post-insemination following a pregnancy diagnosis) in each herd
  • improved reproductive performance
    • conception rate improved by 7%-15% across herds
    • pregnancy rate increased by 7% -16% across herds
  • resulted in lower blood beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHBA) levels at seven days postpartum.
    • This parameter dropped as much as 44% in one herd where it was measured. BHBA is a measure associated with increased risk of metabolic issues
  • improved first milk weights in three herds (those that reported the data)
  • net profit increased on all dairies that participated in the trials. The profit ranged from $28 to $248 per cow per year based on performance improvements.*

• Research citations available upon request