Dry cow and transition cow nutrition

Fresh cows need to calve in with few metabolic problems. Fresh cows also need to eat aggressively as soon as possible and have few sub-clinical metabolic problems. Goals of the far-off dry period include maintaining body condition, maintaining protein and muscle reserves, rejuvenation of the rumen wall, and provision of needed minerals and vitamins. During the pre-fresh period, nutrient requirements increase while dry matter intake decreases. Ration nutrient concentration must increase. The mineral balance of the ration is critical. The rumen microbes and rumen papillae also need to be adjusted to higher levels of concentrates. Ration palatability is important at this time. A fresh cow’s energy needs usually exceed energy supply. Any steps taken to reduce the degree of sub-clinical ketosis will result in increased dry matter intake, increased milk production, and better reproduction. Special fresh cow groups help producers to target time, high quality forages, and feed additives to those cows who will respond the most. Fresh-cow feed additives include calcium propionate, choline, niacin, and yeast culture. Updated with information from the 2001 NRC

Many people have just one objective for fresh cows. They want to keep the vet away and they don't want to have to treat cows themselves either. It's a good goal to have few retained placentas, clinical cases of ketosis, milk fever, or displaced abomasums. (see Transition Cow Metabolic Problems ). But, higher production goals will only be met if we add one more objective for fresh cows. They need to eat aggressively as soon as possible and have few sub-clinical metabolic problems.

Calving Cows That Are “On Fire” For Milk Production

A number of producers have very little concern about metabolic problems because they haven't treated a fresh cow in a long time. They don't recognize, however, that sub-clinical problems could still be hurting milk production. It has been estimated that 50% of cows have sub-clinical milk fever on calving day. This makes cows eat less and makes them more susceptible to other health problems. Most high-producing cows experience sub-clinical ketosis. Reducing the degree of sub-clinical ketosis can cause a cow to eat more and to go from making 100 pounds (45.5 kg)/day to 105 pounds (47.7 kg)/day and maybe even higher. We fight sub-clinical problems just the way we fight clinical problems. It just means taking everything a step further. (see Transition Cow Metabolic Problems).

Far-Off Dry Cow Nutrition and Management

The far-off dry period is from 60 – 21 days before calving. Goals of the far-off dry period include maintaining body condition, maintaining protein and muscle reserves, rejuvenation of the rumen wall, and provision of needed minerals and vitamins.

Far-off dry cows can be expected to have a daily dry matter intake equal to 2-2.2% of their bodyweight. Therefore, a 1350-pound (614 kg) cow would consume 27-30 pounds (12.3-13.6 kg) of dry matter each day. Cows require specific amounts (pounds or grams) of nutrients, not percentages. So, balance diets with a realistic value for dry matter intake.

Body Condition
It is best to dry cows off at a body condition score of 3.5 and then to maintain that condition up until calving day. Late lactation cows use dietary energy to replace body reserves more efficiently than dry cows (75% vs. 60% efficiency). So, it is recommended that cows put on condition during mid- to late-lactation and achieve the desired calving body condition score (3.5) at that time rather than during the dry period. If cows are becoming too heavy in late lactation, reduce the energy content of the diet at that time. Never attempt to put cows on a diet during the dry period because it will put cows in an undesirable ketotic state and they will start to deposit fat in the liver.

Michigan State researchers found that cows that put on body fat during the dry period had greater milk yields in the following lactation and were more likely to conceive on their first insemination. But, the cows in this study had an average BCS of 2.77 at dry-off. Cows were very thin and needed the extra body weight. In this situation it is best to put on body condition during the dry period. But, every attempt should be made not to have thin cows at dry-off in the first place. This is especially important if thin dry cows cannot be separated from adequately conditioned dry cows for feeding. Over-conditioned cows (>3.75) are more likely to have reduced intakes, ketosis, and other metabolic problems both before and after calving.

Protein and Muscle Reserves
The NRC (1989) recommends that dry cow diets contain 12% CP. Most nutritionists agree with this recommendation for the far-off period. Some nutritionists will recommend 12-13% CP for safety. The NRC (2001) estimates metabolizable protein (MP) requirements based on days pregnant and calf birth weight. It predicts that a 1606-pound (730 kg) cow that is 240 days pregnant will consume 31.7 pounds (14.4 kg) of dry matter per day and require 871 grams of MP per day. That equates to 6% MP in the diet or 9.9% CP if the diet is perfectly balanced for the protein fractions. A footnote in the NRC (2001) recommendations informs the reader that 12% CP may be actually required to meet the cows needs because of protein wastage.

Underfeeding protein during the dry period may deplete the cow's protein reserves. This may reduce the cow's milk production, reproductive performance, and healthiness during the next lactation. In one study, increasing dietary CP from 9 to 13% in heifer diets from 70 to 0 days before calving, increased first-lactation milk yield from 23,775 pounds (10,807 kg) to 25,784 pounds (11,720 kg). Unfortunately, many farmers put far-off dry cows on a diet of corn silage and poor quality hay or pasture. They do not supplement any protein so total dietary CP is 8-10%.

Rejuvenation of the Rumen Wall
It is most desirable to feed a high forage ration, especially long-stemmed forage like hay, during the far-off dry period. Forage helps to maintain high rumen fill, stimulate rumen muscle movement, and heal the rumen wall of lesions that may have developed while the cow was on a high grain ration. This may promote higher dry matter intake and production after calving. Another benefit of feeding a high forage diet is that it is generally lower in energy and helps to prevent cows from getting fat during the dry period. Many different types of forages can be fed to far-off dry cows. The sodium and potassium content of the far-off diet is not critical for preventing milk fever, so long as cows are definitely moved to a mineral-balanced pre-fresh diet 21 days before calving. Forages that contain a lot of grain, like corn silage, should be limit fed. It is generally best to limit corn silage to 30-40% of the diet dry matter.

Minerals and Vitamins
If a cow is deprived of needed minerals and vitamins in the far-off dry period, the effects might not be seen until after calving or until it is time to get the cow bred back. But, it is certain to have a negative effect. Trace minerals and Vitamin E are especially important for the prevention of retained placenta and udder edema (see Transition Cow Metabolic Problems). Many dry cow facilities are not set up for easy supplementation of minerals and vitamins. Some farmers try to feed supplements free-choice. This method is not reliable. If group feeding, it is best to mix supplements within a TMR.

Pre-fresh Dry Cow Nutrition and Management

For the last 10-15 years, dairy farmers greatly increased milk production on their farms in part because they have begun feeding a pre-fresh ration to dry cows from 21 days before calving up until calving day. The nutrition and management of the cow during the three weeks before and after calving determine in large part the cow's production for her entire lactation. During the pre-fresh period, the cow's nutritional requirements increase while dry matter intake decreases. Nutrient concentration of the ration must increase. The mineral balance of the ration is critical at this time. Also, the rumen microbes and rumen papillae benefit from a gradual adjustment to more concentrates.

There are many advantages of a pre-fresh ration. First, metabolic problems decrease because of an improved mineral balance. If all dry cows are in one group, it is often difficult to provide the appropriate minerals because of supplement costs and forage inventory. Second, clinical and sub-clinical ketosis is reduced. This is accomplished by increasing dietary energy concentration. Energy concentration could not be increased if a farmer only had one dry group because then the far-off dry cows would get too fat. Often, ketosis will begin to develop before calving. Once it starts (and it may not be obvious), it is difficult to control the downhill slide into ketosis problems after calving even with the best fresh cow ration. Finally, by adjusting the rumen microbes, eliminating metabolic problems, and keeping intake as high as possible through the pre-fresh period, intakes after calving will increase. Any improvement in fresh cow intake will result in more milk production, less sub-clinical health problems, better reproductive performance, and higher profitability.

Research at the University of Wisconsin , has shown that cows dramatically reduce their dry matter intake during the final week prior to calving. The average dry matter intake for the last three weeks before calving is 20% less than the intake of far-off dry cows. Most of that decrease occurs during the last week before calving. Cows carrying twins reduce their dry matter intake earlier than other cows do. The reasons for intake depression may include changes in hormonal status, ketones that increase in the blood as a cow begins to use body fat, and the large calf inside of the cow.

The NRC (2001) predicts that a 1652-pound (751 kg) cow will consume 30.1 pounds (13.7 kg) of dry matter at 270 days pregnant but only 22.2 pounds (10.1 kg) at 279 days pregnant .

When formulating a ration for a pre-fresh group, assume that they will consume an amount equal to 1.75% of body weight, or about 23 pounds (10.5 kg) of dry matter for a Holstein cow. Every management step should be taken to entice pre-fresh cows to eat one more pound of dry matter. It is especially critical that pre-fresh cows have easy access to adequate amounts of clean water. Water will help cows to maximize intake. Wisconsin research showed that cows who ate poorly during the pre-fresh period were more likely to have low dry matter intake three weeks after calving.

At the same time as dry matter intake is decreasing, fetal growth and mammary tissue growth are increasing, causing an increase in total nutrient requirements. Researchers at Cornell University estimated the energy requirements for growth of the fetus and other tissues associated with pregnancy. They did not investigate and determine the energy requirements for growth of the udder. They found that the NRC (1989) energy recommendations were adequate for mature cows (0.57 Mcal/lb NE l ) (1.25 Mcal/kg) to meet the needs for maintenance and fetal growth. But, this energy concentration is not adequate during the last week before calving when intake is depressed. Energy concentration also needs to be higher for first-calf heifers because of their lower intakes and extra energy needs for growth. For these reasons and since most farms do not have the facilities for two pre-fresh dry cow groups, most nutritionists balance pre-fresh diets to contain about 0.70 Mcal/lb NE l (1.54 Mcal/kg). Feeding forages containing highly digestible fiber helps to meet the energy needs of the pre-fresh cow.

If we don't account for this reduction in dry matter intake and the increase in energy needs by increasing diet energy density, we can expect cows to begin to mobilize excessive amounts of fat from their backs and to have high levels of NEFA's prior to calving. This will reduce dry matter intake before calving and will set the cow up for reduced dry matter intake, ketosis and fatty liver syndrome following calving.

Michigan State researchers saw a 30% increase in dry matter intake when they increased the energy concentration of the diet from 0.60 Mcal/lb NE l (1.32 Mcal/kg) to 0.70 Mcal/lb NE l (1.54 Mcal/kg) and increased crude protein from 13 to 16% at about 3 weeks before calving. Dry matter intake increased from about 26.5 pounds (12 kg)/day to 34.5 pounds (15.7 kg)/day and remained above 31 pounds (14 kg)/day until the last week before calving. It is assumed that most of the extra energy came from NFC, as is typical. A further study at Michigan State showed similar results and also concluded that feeding a higher energy, higher protein diet resulted in less mobilization of body fat before calving.

The NRC (2001) requires 14.4 Mcal NE l per day for prefresh dry cows. Because of differences in estimated dry matter intake, this translates into an energy concentration of 0.48 Mcal/lb (1.05 Mcal/kg) at 270 days pregnant (30.1 pounds (13.7 kg) dry matter intake) and 0.65 Mcal/lb (1.44 Mcal/kg) at 279 days pregnant (22.2 pounds (10.1 kg) dry matter intake. However, for a heifer transitioning into her first lactation more energy is recommended (16.9 Mcal/day) in order to prepare the rumen, increase intake, and prevent D.A.'s after calving. The recommended range in dietary energy for the standard close-up diet by the NRC (2001) is 0.70 – 0.74 (1.54-1.62 Mcal/kg).

Non-Fiber Carbohydrate
The level of non-fiber carbohydrate needs to be higher in pre-fresh diets for four different reasons. First, as discussed above, the pre-fresh diet needs to contain a higher concentration of energy. It is usually most economical to meet this need in the form of NFC. Second, propionate, a volatile fatty acid (VFA) primarily produced from the fermentation of NFC, increases the length of the rumen papillae. The rumen papillae are the finger-like projections that absorb VFA from the rumen. Stimulating their growth prior to calving increases VFA absorption after calving. The VFA are used as an energy source for the cow and propionate is specifically needed to reduce ketosis. Elimination of rumen acids is also important for controlling rumen acidosis. Third, h igher NFC levels help to transition the rumen microbes towards a lactating ration again. Increasing the growth of the NFC-fermenting microbes before calving will further reduce the incidence of acidosis and “off-feed” problems once the cow calves and consumes a diet with more NFC. Finally, propionate is used to derive energy from body fat and reduce ketosis (see Transition Cow Metabolic Problems).

Non-fiber carbohydrate levels need to rise to 32-33% of the dry matter during the pre-fresh period. In a typical diet, this would be equivalent to 8-10 pounds (3.6-4.5 kg) of added grain. As with milking cow diets, it is important to provide a blend of NFC sources, some which ferment fairly rapidly (such as sugars and high-moisture corn) and some that are more slowly fermented (such as cornmeal). This will increase overall digestion of NFC, the number of rumen bacteria, and the amount of rumen microbial protein available for use by the cow.

Calcium Propionate
Inclusion of 0.25 pound (0.11 kg) of calcium propionate (or equivalent commercial supplement) in pre-fresh diets provides an extra daily dose of propionate that reduces both sub-clinical and clinical ketosis. Propionate is used at the liver to convert acetate (from mobilized fat) to energy rather than the acetate being converted into ketones.

Effective Fiber
As dietary grain in the pre-fresh diet is increased and pregnancy hormones affect intake, daily intake is more likely to fluctuate. Daily fluctuations in dry matter intake have a negative impact on rumen health and reduce average dry matter intake per day. At the very least, this can reduce intake after calving. Worse yet, fluctuating intake increases the risk of ketosis, milk fever, and displaced abomasum. Long, effective fiber will help to keep the rumen full and functioning better during the pre-fresh period. It is important to maintain adequate levels of effective fiber (usually more than 32% forage NDF) in the pre-fresh ration. About 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of high-quality grassy hay (below 65% NDF) can help to provide consistent long fiber.

Cornell researchers boosted the protein content of first-calf heifer pre-fresh diets from 12 to 15% using bypass protein. Their goal was to meet the DIP needs of the rumen microbes and maximize microbial protein production and then to supply extra bypass amino acids to meet the rest of the cow's needs. They increased milk protein percentage after calving and tended to decrease services per conception. They also reduced loss of body condition after calving. That result may indicate less ketosis after calving.

The calf growing inside the cow needs protein for muscle growth as well as to be burned for energy. Without adequate dietary protein before calving, the cow may have less protein reserves to use after calving. This may negatively impact milk protein production. Specific amino acids may be needed to help clear the liver of accumulating fat. Specific amino acids may also help to absorb and use dietary fats for energy. Protein may also be important in absorbing calcium, reducing sub-clinical milk fever and increasing dry matter intake.

The NRC (1989) recommends only 12% CP in the pre-fresh diet. Researchers disagree on whether or not that is adequate. Some of the research trials showing no response to extra protein fed relatively high levels of degradable protein rather than undegradable protein. Degradable protein may have been wasted and the extra nitrogen load may have adversely affected these cows. A Cornell field trial indicated that feeding more than 12% CP during the pre-fresh period decreased the risk of retained placenta and ketosis. Experience with many commercial herds also supports the feeding of higher levels of protein. Because of these experiences and the Cornell study previously discussed, many nutritionists recommend that the pre-fresh diet contain 14-15% CP with about 30% of that protein being in the form of soluble protein (SIP), 60% in the form of degradable protein (DIP), and 40% as undegradable protein (UIP). The inclusion of some processed soy proteins and animal proteins is recommended to improve the amino acid quality of the UIP. The extra protein is especially important for first-calf heifers.

The NRC (2001) recommends 901 grams metabolizable protein (MP) at 270 days pregnant and 810 grams MP at 279 days pregnant. Using their estimated dry matter intakes of 30.1 pounds (13.7 kg) and 22.2 pounds (10.1 kg), respectively, this equates to 6.5% MP and 8% MP for 270 and 279 days pregnant, or 10.8% CP and 12.4% CP if the diet is perfectly balanced for the protein fractions. A footnote in the NRC (2001) recommendations informs the reader that 12% CP may be actually required to meet the cows needs because of protein wastage and in the standard close-up dry cow diet recommendations of the NRC (2001), 12% CP is recommended in the diet.

Minerals and Vitamins
Adequate mineral levels and balance of minerals is important for controlling metabolic problems, both clinical and sub-clinical. One metabolic problem usually leads to other metabolic problems and low production (see Transition Cow Metabolic Problems).

Feeding Management and Diet Palatability
The pre-fresh cow is the fussiest eater on the farm. The forages in the ration must be fresh and mold-free. Do not use the sweepings from the milking cows as part of the pre-fresh ration. Do not feed the pre-fresh TMR every other day. Have fresh TMR available at least once per day, better yet, twice per day. Never let the pre-fresh bunk remain empty during the day. 10% refusals are recommended. Be careful to minimize and gradually introduce anionic salts, bypass fats, and animal proteins that are not very palatable. Include forages to be fed in the milking ration in the pre-fresh ration to minimize adjustment after calving.

Reduce stress and the blood NEFA levels associated with stress by providing a well-ventilated, clean, dry, well-bedded calving stall. Minimize heat stress. Avoid transporting cows at calving time. Avoid social and handling problems.

Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that is produced by the rumen microbes. The demand for niacin may exceed its production in the rumen, especially during the transition period. Niacin may aid the liver in its metabolism of fats and therefore, supplementing 6 to 12 grams of niacin to the diet may reduce blood ketone levels. However, there is conflicting research data.

Choline is a water-soluble vitamin that, like niacin, is produced by the rumen microbes. As with niacin, researchers now believe that the rumen microbes may not make enough choline to supply all of the cows needs, especially during the transition period. Choline makes up part of the structure of body cells, especially cell membranes. Choline is involved in the use of fats and their transport from the liver in the form of very low density lipoproteins (VLDL). Of course, it is especially critical during the transition period for the cow to be able to clear the liver of accumulating fat in order to avoid fatty liver syndrome. Rumen bacteria degrade most of the dietary choline consumed by the cow. So, supplemental choline must be fed in a rumen-protected form. Reashure® from Balchem Corporation, New Hampton, NY is a commercial source of rumen-protected choline that is designed to pass through the rumen and then be absorbed from the cow's small intestine.

Fresh Cow Nutrition and Management

For this discussion, the fresh cow period is defined as the first four weeks after calving. Energy needs exceed energy supply at this time. The cow will be using some body fat as an energy source. Even though ketosis may not be recognized, blood ketones will be raised. Any steps taken to reduce the degree of sub-clinical ketosis will result in increased dry matter intake, increased milk production and better reproduction. A cow producing over 100 pounds (45.5 kg) of milk per day can be experiencing sub-clinical ketosis and will respond with more milk if steps are taken to alleviate it. For every additional pound of peak milk production, a cow will produce 200 pounds (91 kg) more milk during that lactation.

Special fresh cow groups help producers to target resources to those cows who will respond the most. A small, well-located fresh cow group helps farmers to watch these cows closer and identify and treat problems more quickly. Many producers now take daily temperatures of cows and quickly give supportive therapies to cows during their first 10 days in milk. Additives, such as calcium propionate, choline, niacin, and yeast culture, can be included at sufficient levels in a fresh cow diet where their return on investment is highest. Highest quality forages can be specifically allocated to the fresh cow group. Bunk space can be increased to promote dry matter intake in timid, fresh cows.

Intake and Energy
Dry matter intake is low and fluctuating during the fresh period. Because most fresh cows are experiencing sub-clinical ketosis, if a cow does not eat, even for a short period of time, she can be thrown into a ketotic state. Researchers at the University of Illinois limited feed intake on day 5 after calving to 50% of the day 4 intake. This resulted in clinical ketosis in 8 out of 10 cows. In a different study, when intake was reduced by 50% during week 4 to 5 of lactation, no ketosis resulted. The fresh cow ration as well as clean water should be easily accessible 24 hours per day. 10% refusals are recommended. Good feeding management will help to stimulate intake.

By the end of the first week after calving, dry matter intake should be at least equal to 2.5-2.8% of body weight (34-38 pounds (15.5-17.3 kg)/day in Holsteins ). Most nutritionists balance fresh cow diets for a dry matter intake equal to about 3.3-3.4% of body weight (45-46 pounds (20.5-21 kg)/day in Holsteins ). This is about halfway in between expected intake at the beginning and end of the fresh cow period. Normally, the energy content of a fresh cow diet should be 0.78-0.79 NE l (Mcal/lb)(1.72-1.74 Mcal/kg).

The NRC (2001) predicts dry matter intake 1496-pound (680 kg) fresh cow producing 77 pounds (35 kg) of milk (3.5% mf, 3.0% milk true protein) to be 34.3 pounds (15.6 kg) per day. The energy requirement is 34.8 Mcal NE l /day. Because of acidosis concerns, however, it is recommended that the diet be balanced for 20% more intake than predicted (41.4 pounds or 18.8 kg). This would result in an energy concentration of 0.84 Mcal NE l /lb (1.85 Mcal/kg). It is recognized that the cow must lose some body condition at this time.

Fiber and Fiber Digestibility
Because of the low and fluctuating intake during the fresh period, the inclusion of long, effective fiber is especially critical not only for avoiding metabolic problems such as displaced abomasum, but also for keeping the rumen functioning as well as possible and increasing total dry matter intake. Two to three pounds (0.9-1.4 kg) of hay (>3 inches (8 cm) in length) added into a TMR can be very helpful so long as cows do not sort their ration. Feeding hay in a separate bunk from the rest of the ration is not recommended. If cows are given a choice, some will eat too much hay and some won't eat enough. Forages containing highly digestible fiber should be allocated to fresh cows because of their low intake at a time of great energy need.

Starches and Sugars
After calving, substantial amounts of glucose are needed for milk sugar (lactose) production during a time when intake is low. Very little glucose is absorbed from the cow's intestine. Instead, the rumen microbes convert the starches and sugars into microbial protein and propionate. Propionate is converted into glucose and then into milk sugar. This drives milk production. But, at the same time, propionate is needed by the liver to control ketosis. Supplying enough propionate and glucose to the fresh cow is one of the greatest challenges that nutritionists have. Dietary amino acids and amino acids from muscle are sometimes broken down and partially used for glucose synthesis. But, we would rather have these amino acids used to make milk protein. For optimal propionate production, the ration should contain 4-6% sugars and 24-28% starch.

Starches and sugars can also ferment to strong acids, such as lactic acid. Too much acid will reduce the growth of the rumen microbes and reduce milk production . When we reach the acid limit, non-forage fiber sources or fats need to be considered to provide energy that is in a form that won't create as much acid. The acetate derived from the fermentation of fiber will be used as an energy source and for the production of milkfat; however, it won't drive milk production or reduce ketosis as much as propionate will.

Fats provide 2.25 times more energy than carbohydrate. Fat does not ferment in the rumen and can be used as an alternative energy source after maximizing fiber and NFC digestion. Cows fed a ration with 1 to 1.5 pounds (0.45-0.68 kg) of supplemental fat usually have blood NEFA levels that are about 0.05 meq/L more than they are with no supplemental fat. Normally, a fresh cow would have blood NEFA levels in the range of 0.30-0.70 meq/L. Some studies have shown that fat can depress intake in early lactation but others have not. Some researchers have theorized that supplemental fat might reduce ketosis by minimizing body fat usage. However, reviews of many research trials indicate that fat feeding does not consistently affect ketosis either positively or negatively. Most producers feed the same level of fat to the fresh cows as they do for all early lactation, high-producers. This is fine so long as fat does not replace starches and sugars needed for the production of propionate and glucose. Typical dietary fat levels are between 4 and 5.5% of the diet dry matter.

Protein (Amino Acids)
A few studies have shown that specific amino acids can increase the export of fat out of the liver. This may improve liver function and increase dry matter intake. Specific amino acids may also help to absorb and use dietary fats for energy. The NRC (1989) recommends that dietary crude protein be at 19% for fresh cows. This higher level of protein was recommended based on the reductions in dry matter intake at this time. The NRC (2001) requires about 2200 grams MP for a 1496-pound (680 kg) fresh cow producing 77 pounds (35 kg) of milk (3.5% mf, 3.0% milk protein) per day. This would result in a CP level of 19.5% if the protein fractions were perfectly balanced at 34.3 pounds (15.6 kg) dry matter intake or 15.9% CP at 41.4 pounds (18.8 kg) dry matter intake.

More research is needed to improve our understanding of amino acid supply and amino acid needs of the fresh cow. As amino acid nutrition is better understood and individual amino acids can be supplemented, there will be better control of ketosis and a lower percentage of crude protein will likely be recommended.

Calcium Propionate
Supplemental calcium propionate increases the amount of propionate available at the liver. It has been shown to increase blood glucose levels and decrease blood ketone levels. It is usually fed at a rate of 0.25 pound (0.11 kg) per day. Some researchers believe that calcium propionate mainly spares dietary protein from being metabolized to glucose. Thus, with the addition of calcium propionate in the diet, more amino acids are available for conversion to milk protein and total milk production increases. It is typical to see milk production responses of 3-4 pounds (1.4-1.8 kg) per cow when supplementing fresh cows having no obvious signs of ketosis. Greater responses have been seen in situations with more evidence of a ketosis problem.

There are commercial supplements that contain additional propionate sources or minerals, including, SweetLac Transition®, Nutro-Cal®, and Metaxerol®. Miner Institute ( Chazy , NY ) fed 0.25 pound (0.11 kg) of Nutro-Cal® for three weeks before and after calving. They found no effect on milk production but cows supplemented with Nutro-Cal® had significantly lower serum NEFA levels during the first week after calving (0.628 meq/L vs. 0.838 meq/L). In another Miner Institute study, one pound (0.45 kg) of SweetLac Transition® was fed for three weeks before and three weeks after calving. Treatment cows at 42 DIM produced 7.37 pounds (3.35 kg) more milk per day, at 49 DIM produced 6.62 pounds (3 kg) more milk per day, and at 56 DIM produced 11.73 pounds (5.3 kg) more milk per day.

Milk production responses have been seen with supplemental rumen-protected choline and when choline has been infused into the intestine. In a study conducted at the University of Maryland , cows infused with 50 grams of choline at the intestine produced 8.4 pounds (3.8 kg) more 4% fat-corrected milk (37.4 pounds (17 kg) versus 45.8 pounds (20.8 kg)). Balchem Corporation ( New Hampton, NY ) fed two ounces (57 grams) of their rumen-protected choline product to over 6000 cows in six herds from 21 days before calving to 50 days after calving. The milk production response to the supplement ranged from 3 to 9 pounds/cow/day (1.4-4 kg/cow/day. Part of this difference in response could be associated with the amount of body fat being used by the cows. Based on the current research, one must specifically feed choline only to fresh cows, otherwise it is cost prohibitive.


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Van Saun, R.J. 1991. Dry cow nutrition. The key to improving fresh cow performance. In: The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Food Animal Practice. W.B. Saunders Company, p. 599.

Van Saun, R.J., S.C. Idleman, and C.J. Sniffen. 1993. Effect of undegradable protein amount fed prepartum on postpartum production in first lactation Holstein cows. J. Dairy Sci. 76:236.

Related Links:

Dietary Cation-Anion Balancing of Rations in the Prepartum or Late Dry Period
B. Harris, Jr., Ph.D. and D.K. Beede, Ph.D., University of Florida

Feeding the Dairy Herd, In: Feeding the Dairy Herd,North Central Regional Extension Publication
J.G. Linn et al.

Feeding and Managing the Far-Off Dry Cow
D. Amaral-Phillips and S. Franklin, University of Kentucky

Special Nutritional Needs of the Transition Cow
E. Block and W.K. Sanchez

Feeding the transition dairy cow
S.R. Stokes

Transition Management Checklist


Mary Beth de Ondarza

Mary Beth de Ondarza
45 articles

Nutritional consultant for the dairy feed industry at Paradox Nutrition, LLC.

Look to Paradox Nutrition, LLC for providing:

  • Controlled research studies on commercial dairy farms
  • Computer modeling with complete nutritional assessment and statistical analysis
  • Complete literature review of a nutrition topic
  • Nutrition writing for company technical bulletins or popular press
  • Dairy nutrition seminars with new, practical, and understandable information for consultants and dairy producers
  • On-farm nutritional consultation

Dr. de Ondarza received her Ph. D. from Michigan State University and her Masters Degree from Cornell University, both in the field of Dairy Nutrition.

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Paradox Nutrition

Paradox Nutrition

Paradox Nutrition, LLC is a nutritional consultation business for the dairy feed industry. Mary Beth de Ondarza, Ph.D. is the sole proprietor.

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