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What every farmer needs to know about the transition period

The importance of managing cows properly during the transition period is well documented, as too is the importance of ensuring dry cows receive a suitable and relevant ration in the period immediately prior to calving. But how do you best manage cows during this critical phase in their reproductive cycle and how do you set realistic health and production goals for freshly calved cows? In this blog we provide some advice and insights to enable you to optimise the transition period for your herd.

09-07-2020, updated on 07-01-2021
cow and calf

Pitfalls transition period

One of the biggest pitfalls is that the transition period is highly underestimated by a lot dairy farmers. While the majority of your cows will properly stand up after calving, this does not mean subclinical milk fever is not a problem at your farm. Numerous studies show that approximately 50-70% of dairy cows are affected by subclinical milk fever. They normally stand up after calving, but will not be able to function optimally and will be at increased risk to subsequent conditions such as mastitis and uterine problems. It goes without saying that the chance of these cows reaching their next lactation is clearly reduced, and so it is important to ensure that each cow is managed appropriately to enable them to begin their next reproductive cycle in the best possible condition.

What is subclinical milk fever?

Subclinical milk fever (subclinical hypocalcaemia) typically occurs at calving and is caused by a lack of calcium which reduces the cow’s ability to perform properly. Calcium is important for correct muscle function: without sufficient calcium the muscles in for example the uterus and teat ends will not work properly, leaving the affected animal at increased risk to infection. The gastrointestinal tract can also be affected by milk fever, with reduced feed which can contribute to an imbalance in energy levels.  


Opportunities transition period

Despite the potential for things to go awry during the transition period, this also presents many opportunities to improve the performance of individual cows and the herd as a whole. Some of these opportunities to improve the performance of your transition cows will be easy and relatively cost effective to implement, while others will be more time consuming and expensive to effect. For opportunities to improve cow health you need to focus on the cause the frequency and severity of cases of milk fever, uterine infections and mastitis. After performing a good analysis you will most likely also find room for improvement on your farm!


More information about how to improve this particular aspect of herd management?

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Feed intake is critical

The health, welfare, productivity and fertility of all dairy animals stands or fall on their ability to receive and utilise an effective ration. Without an appropriate level of feed intake, no cow will ever perform to her optimum potential, especially during the transition period. It is therefore essential to ensure each and every animal in the herd has free access to a well-balanced, fresh and palatable ration. 


A flying start

We’d like to see every lactation get off to a flying start. But things are not always that simple and it requires a lot of time and effort to ensure each cow is able to perform to her maximum and to eradicate the many barriers which can prevent cows from achieving their full potential. The most important thing, of course, is that your cows continue to take in enough good quality feed and water, even when they are dry. Globally, low DCAD rations, also known as acidogenic rations, are increasingly being used to give cows extra support in terms of calcium metabolism so that they can have a good start of their next lactation and with fewer health problems. 


How to maintain a good feed intake during the transition period

One common concern regarding low DCAD rations with anionic salts is that adequate feed intake may be difficult to maintain. To address this issue, Phibro has developed Animate: a concentrated, complete and highly palatable product that can be fed in a well-balanced dry cow ration without effects on feed intake. By incorporating Animate into your herd’s ration, your cows will continue to eat well and sufficiently. Animate helps to optimise calcium metabolism at calving, this can contribute to healthier and more productive cows. By feeding Animate, many of the problems associated with calving and the ensuing transitional period can be prevented, thereby helping your cows get off to a flying start!

Would you like to know more about Animate and its effect on your freshly calved cows? If so, get in touch to request a transition assessment with a Phibro expert.

Note: Always consult your own veterinary surgeon for diagnosis and advice when you have severe problems with (sub)clinical milk fever

Henco Splinter
Henco Splinter
Henco is a dairy technical specialist based in The Netherlands. With his broad experience in animal feed and health he really enjoys working with farmers towards the optimal performance and health of their animals

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