The critical transition period is a high-risk time for dairy cows. Cows are experiencing extreme changes in feed intake and are moving to a more nutrient-dense diet as they prepare to give birth to a calf and start producing sufficient quantities of high-quality milk. On top of that, these cows will need to mount a rapid and robust inflammatory response to remodel the reproductive tract to prepare for their next pregnancy.
During the transition period, however, cows cannot physically ramp up feed intake fast enough post-calving to meet these energy requirements. This leaves cows in a depressed immune status and at a higher risk for infection and chronic inflammation.
Let’s look at how inflammation affects cows in transition and how you can manage inflammation with transition cow management strategies.
After calving, a dairy cow has roughly two months to mount a rapid and robust inflammatory response to remodel the reproductive tract, eliminate pathogens that entered during the calving process and repair damaged tissues. This process helps the cow prepare for the next pregnancy.
If a cow is unable to mount a rapid and robust inflammatory response, the inflammation will become chronic, continuing to drain energy and nutrients that would otherwise be used for milk production and reproduction. Additionally, prolonged inflammation in the reproductive tract can lead to subsequent health issues.
If chronic inflammation is occurring in the mammary gland during this time, which is quite common, it will also continue to affect milk quality by increasing somatic cell count.
Stress factors, whether they be environmental, social or physical, can lead to a feed intake reduction and an inflammatory response that can further depress the immune system. One way to reduce stress is to limit pen movements. If it is necessary to move your transition cows to a new pen, move cows once per week in groups of 10 or more to reduce stress associated with social disruption. Also, maintain low pen density levels and provide easy access to fresh water and feed. Make sure the pen is clean and dry.
Heat stress can also lead to chronic inflammation. Implement heat stress abatement strategies by providing adequate shade, water for both drinking and cooling, and adequate air movement during hot weather.
Transition Diet and Performance Trace Minerals
Switching from a diet consisting mainly of forage to a diet with more grain and starch can compromise the gut lining and lead to inflammation. Make sure you’re not transitioning the cows’ diet too aggressively.
Performance trace minerals, including those from Availa®4 or Availa®Dairy, can help transition cows mount a rapid and robust inflammatory response and provide the energy and nutrients they need to fuel milk production. Performance trace minerals also improve the integrity of the gut lining, which will help lessen the impact of dietary changes. Additionally, performance trace minerals improve milk quality in transition cows by controlling inflammation in the mammary gland and lowering somatic cell count.
Trace minerals play a critical role in strengthening epithelial integrity to improve gut, uterine and mammary health, as well as hoof health and claw horn integrity, making the whole transition period less stressful and reserving nutrients for what matters: performance. Contact your Zinpro representative today to learn more about including performance trace minerals in your transition cow nutrition program.