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4 minute read

Managing Reproductive Tract Inflammation in Dairy Cows

Cow cleaning a newborn calf.
Dr. Adam Geiger

Dairy Nutritionist
Zinpro Corporation

Taking steps to positively impact the dairy cow reproduction system is always a smart economic move. One of those steps is managing inflammation related to calving.

Following birth, a dairy cow in transition has 60 to 70 days to successfully remodel her reproductive tract. During this time, a dramatic shift occurs in the epithelium of the reproductive tract. It is critical for dairy cows to mount an effective immune response to eliminate reproductive tract pathogens that enter during the birthing process and to repair damaged tissues. This helps prepare the animal for subsequent pregnancies.

If this remodeling process happens in a robust manner and the inflammation quickly goes away, an acute inflammatory response is a good thing. And studies show that performance trace minerals are important for a robust immune response, keeping this response moving along and returning the cow reproduction system to normal. However, if the process of moving through the acute inflammation is slowed down, the cow may develop chronic inflammation which can negatively impact milk production and her ability to breed back in an efficient time period.

Chronic Inflammation Implications

Fighting chronic inflammation can require a large amount of nutrients, and it can also cause an animal to struggle to hold a pregnancy or even get pregnant. This happens because nutrient partitioning of the animal is compromised by the ongoing inflammation.

Research by Lance Baumgard at Iowa State University shows that an animal undergoing an inflammatory response can easily lose more than one kilogram of energy (glucose) to the immune system in a day. If you stack a pregnancy on top of that, the nutrients for the fetus will have a high priority. So, with the inflammation, the amount of nutrients necessary to continue milk production becomes greater, and something will have to give as you look at the economics: You will feed the cow more, which will cost you money, or you will feed the cow the same and have less milk — or less income.

Trace Minerals Matter in Cow Reproduction

A study investigating how to maximize reproductive efficiency throughout the lifecycle of the cow was conducted by James Ferguson at the University of Pennsylvania. The study assigned 156 pregnant Holstein cows into two blocks; one using a daily supplementation of inorganic trace minerals, and the other replacing a portion of the inorganic trace minerals with Zinpro Performance Minerals®. Diets were fed from 60 days before the projected calving date through 250 days post-calving.

The study showed partial replacement of the standard inorganic diet with 4-Plex®C from Zinpro helped improve cow fertility:

  • Cows fed the 4-Plex-C diet from Zinpro had fewer open days (138 vs. 146 days) than cows fed the inorganic trace mineral diet.
  • Cows on the 4-Plex-C diet had fewer days to first ovulation (34 vs. 37 days) than cows fed the inorganic diet.
  • More cows (90.2 percent) fed the 4-Plex-C diet from Zinpro became pregnant during the study than cows fed the inorganic trace mineral diet (83.3 percent).
  • Cows fed 4-Plex-C from Zinpro and experienced a transition disorder in the study went on to achieve higher pregnancy rates than cows fed the inorganic trace mineral diet. 4-Plex-C from Zinpro provided an “insurance policy” to achieve a higher pregnancy rate in the presence of a transition challenge.

Mitigate Negative Impacts of Inflammation

Optimum, balanced nutrition including performance trace minerals, especially zinc, manganese and copper, are important for the development of a robust immune system and reproduction of your dairy cows. However, as in all aspects of livestock production, it’s not just one thing but a combination of practices that will give you the best outcomes for managing inflammation and improving reproduction success. Here are a few best practices to consider:

  • Choose dairy cow nutrition diets that are appropriate for where the animal is in its lactation or lifecycle for improved Lifetime Performance®.
  • Involve your veterinarian in decisions to manage inflammation in your herd including prevention, as well as treatment of chronic inflammation.
  • Be thoughtful about your calving management process — the transition process as you move animals from pen to pen, the housing you’re using, and even the types of bedding or flooring being used.
  • Have people who know how to properly manage the stress of animals during the birthing process.

You can also check out these five Do Not Do’s in 2018 from the University of Illinois.

Download the Inflammation and Reproduction research report to learn more about how research-proven performance trace minerals can help you manage reproduction issues caused by chronic inflammation.

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