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Five Key Nutritional Needs for Dairy Transition Cow Success

5 minute read

The transition period, which starts three weeks prior to calving and continues through three weeks after a cow gives birth to a calf, is a critical and high-risk time for dairy cows. Not only is the cow going to calve, but she is also expected to produce sufficient quantities of high-quality milk after calving. 

During the transition period, cows have a depressed immune response and feed intake levels can drop by 25 percent. This can negatively impact subsequent lactation performance including milk production, milk quality and reproduction. It can also result in an increased incidence of cow hoof problems during lactation, leading to increased lameness in cows and potentially even premature culling. 

A well-balanced nutrition program helps ensure cows are ready to produce high-quality milk, while also decreasing metabolic issues that could potentially arise post-calving. Five key nutritional needs are critical for dairy transition cow success include: 

  • Trace minerals 
  • Energy 
  • Macro minerals 
  • Vitamins 
  • Protein 

Trace Minerals Impact Transition Cow Performance

Trace minerals play a critical role in maintaining and improving epithelial cell integrity, which affects gut, uterine and mammary health, as well as hoof health and claw horn integrity. Trace mineral research conducted by Zinpro has shown that feeding the trace minerals found in Zinpro® Availa® 4 improves feed efficiency, while also improving milk protein and milk production. Additional research has shown decreased metabolic issues post-calving and decreased somatic cell counts when feeding Zinpro Availa 4. Lower somatic cell count improves both the quality and quantity of milk produced. Research has also shown that feeding zinc from Zinpro® Availa® Zn helps manage inflammation by improving gut integrity. 

Energy Is Vital for Milk Production

After calving, a dairy cow will be in a negative energy balance, meaning that a cow’s daily energy requirement is not being met by the energy she is consuming in a day. The cow needs enough energy in the right form to calve, and still have energy to get up, walk around, eat and start producing milk, as well as for uterine involution. 

Energy is difficult to manage in the transition period because a cow’s rumen is not yet set up to digest a lot of starch at 21 days before calving. But cows need energy and starch to begin lactating after they calve, so it is important to introduce starch slowly. Higher-quality, more digestible forage will help, and bypass fats can be used to help increase energy intake. Feeds such as citrus pulp, beet pulp and cottonseed are safe to feed if starch intake is an issue. 

Macro Minerals, Vitamins and Proteins for Dairy Cows

Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium are the main macro minerals to consider including in your dairy cow nutrition program. They each play critical roles in milk production and prevention of metabolic disorders. Macro minerals should be properly balanced against the forage base. 

Vitamins have many roles in the transition diet but are primarily supplemented to prevent deficiencies. Vitamins A, D and E are all important in many pathways relative to dairy cow reproduction, immunity and growth. 

Cows in the transition period also need protein to build muscle and grow, and protein also plays a role in immune function. 

The Close-Up Diet

The 21-day pre-fresh diet, also known as the close-up period, is an opportunity to introduce more grain and some starch back into your dairy cow nutrition plan to get the cows ruminal microbes accustomed to digesting larger volumes of starch. This ration will look more like the fresh cow ration fed when the cows come into lactation. 

This is where you can implement ration strategies, such as negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) balancing. For a DCAD balancing program to be successful, forage analyses are highly important to minimize potassium intake. 

In a negative DCAD diet, nutritionists will keep dietary sodium and potassium to a minimum in close-up diets, and with the addition of certain feed additives for cattle, can make the negative DCAD equation zero, or slightly negative. This will alter the acid-base balance in the blood and allow the cow to mobilize more calcium during parturition. A negative DCAD balance can also decrease the percentage of metabolic disorders, such as milk fever. 

Vitamins, trace minerals and macro minerals are also highly important during the close-up period. 

What Happens When Transition Cows Are Not Fed Properly

Transition cows that don’t receive proper nutrition coming into lactation will often develop metabolic disorders, such as milk fever, retained placenta, ketosis and metritis. They could also have other problems, such as displaced abomasum, which usually requires surgery to correct. Subclinical diseases can also occur when cows are not fed properly during the transition period. These cows won’t show symptoms, but their milk production may suffer. If a cow gets off to a slow start, she may never reach acceptable peak milk production levels, which could lead to premature culling from the herd. 

Zinpro® Performance Minerals® in Your Dairy Cow Nutrition Plan

The transition period is a challenging time for dairy cattle. Set your herd up for success by providing a well-balanced transition diet that delivers adequate levels of macro minerals, protein, energy, vitamins, and trace minerals from Zinpro Performance Minerals. By successfully managing transition period nutrition, that sets the stage for improved performance throughout the subsequent lactation in terms of milk production, reproduction and hoof health. 

To learn more about supplementing your transition cow nutrition program with Zinpro Performance Minerals, such as Zinpro Availa 4, contact a Zinpro representative today.