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Reduce inflammation after calving to boost milk outputReduce inflammation after calving to boost milk output

Tim Lundeen 1

November 22, 2015

5 Min Read
Reduce inflammation after calving to boost milk output

KANSAS State University animal scientists have discovered that reducing the inflammation caused during the birth of a calf may be key to helping a dairy cow recover more quickly and go on to a more productive life.

Early findings in a study that began more than a year ago indicate that simple anti-inflammatory drugs -- similar to aspirin -- could help increase the cow's milk production by as much as 10% within a year compared to current trends for lactating dairy cows.


"I compare the dairy cow at the beginning of lactation to somebody who has been a couch potato for two months and then goes out and decides to run a marathon," said Barry Bradford, associate professor of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State. "The energy requirements of a lactating dairy cow, even though she's doing very little exercise, are quite comparable to somebody running a marathon and actually a little bit higher. There's that much milk being produced."

Despite the increased energy needed to produce milk, many cows will stop eating shortly after giving birth.

"That becomes a crisis scenario because you have the marathon energy demand, coupled with an actual drop in energy intake," Bradford said.

The cow's self-imposed starvation leads to a condition called ketosis, a metabolic response that is initially beneficial to cows because it allows them to use nutrients called ketones, which partially replace the need for glucose to support brain function, Bradford explained.

Longer term, however, ketosis also leads to poor productivity and fertility in the dairy cow, which are negatives that producers try to avoid, according to Bradford. As many as 40% of cows who have given birth have at least a mild case of ketosis that causes the negative symptoms, he said.

A simpler solution is to just eat after giving birth, Bradford said, but that isn't so simple when the cow resists the feed bunk. Typically, he said it takes three to four weeks for cows to adapt to eating enough to match their milk output.

Bradford said research at Kansas State has uncovered some evidence that inflammation caused by giving birth is at least partly to blame for the cow's fussy eating.

"One of the big changes that is part of early lactation is probably tenfold increases in the blood markers of inflammation, even in cows that look perfectly healthy," Bradford said. "It's not that shocking; they just pushed out a 100 lb. calf."

One promising finding in Kansas State's research is that giving the cow a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug on the first day after birth increased the cow's milk production by 7-10%.

"There was no effect in the first four weeks, but one year after giving a single pill, that cow was making more milk," Bradford said. "We don't understand yet why that worked, but based on that finding, researchers are now able to study mammary biopsies to understand if we reprogrammed the mammary gland."

The researchers also have now veered from explaining the problem solely as a metabolic disease and are focusing on reducing inflammation right after birth.

"There is no evidence that this is hurtful to the cow," Bradford said. "If you can get 7-10% more milk from a cow, that's a large sustainability issue for the industry. We are using (fewer) resources to make more gallons of milk."

Since the university's work is in the early stages, it will need additional testing and, ultimately, approval by the Food & Drug Administration before becoming part of standard practices for dairy producers.


Transition cow health

Dairy producers should change their expectations for transition dairy cow performance, viewing these animals not as a high health risk but, rather, as an opportunity for high milk production, good health and optimal fertility, according to Tom Overton, professor of dairy management and director of the PRO-DAIRY Program at Cornell University. Overton said achieving all three benefits can be a realistic expectation for transition cows.

Addressing nutritionists, veterinarians and dairy producers at the World Dairy Expo, Overton said transition period goals should include high milk production and a low incidence of metabolic disorders around the time of calving. Achieving these objectives, he said, requires properly managing the energy metabolism, blood calcium and immune function of transition cows.

According to Overton, key components of transition cow nutrition programs should include:

* Tight control of macrominerals in cows' diets as they approach calving;

* Control of energy intake in both the far-off and close-up groups;

* Excellent feed management to ensure accurate ration implementation and prevention of total mixed ration sorting, and

* A focus on ration fermentability during the fresh period.

Subclinical hypocalcemia (SCH) -- low blood calcium without symptoms of clinical milk fever -- during the transition period contributes to impaired immune function, delayed reproduction and other metabolic disorders. Overton emphasized the need for real-time blood monitoring at the herd and cow levels using physiological markers and technology.

He also said feeding prepartum cows a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diet is one of the most effective strategies to help reduce the risk of both clinical milk fever and SCH, which, in turn, may lead to improved immune function.

Overton's research has demonstrated the success of an aggressive DCAD strategy with the use of anionic supplementation. This feeding strategy has been shown to increase post-calving blood calcium, feed intakes and milk production. Overton said he recommends feeding a negative DCAD diet prepartum, fully acidified to a urine pH between 5.5 and 6.0, with 180 g of calcium.

"We have learned and implemented a lot in the last 10-15 years, but there is more opportunity to improve transition cow success," Overton said. "This includes managing hypocalcemia, controlling energy intake pre-calving, proper feed management and managing the non-nutritional factors."

Volume:87 Issue:43

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