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Transition feeding – A key opportunity to increase productivity

Nutrition in the transition period has a major impact on calving success and the cow’s ability to bounce back quickly.

For a dairy cow, it is one of the most challenging times they face, as they deal with tremendous physiological, hormonal and dietary changes. Successfully managing this period to achieve high feed intakes during early lactation, will help capitalise on initial milk yield potential, while maintaining key fertility targets.

Transition challenges

The transition period spans the time three weeks pre-calving and three to four weeks post-calving. The major challenges during this period can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Changing from a forage-rich diet to a concentrate rich diet
  2. A potential negative energy balance, as the cow’s nutritional requirements for milk production rise faster than her feed intake
  3. Oxidative stress which can translate into lower immunity and higher disease risk
Afbeelding: Transition cows being fed - 720

A change in diet

In particular, the change from a forage rich diet to a high concentrate milking ration presents a challenge for the cow’s digestive system. In the rumen, passage rate is increased, fermentation and pH profiles are altered, and in turn the rumen wall is also affected.

The shift in diet and changes to feed intake pattern that occur around calving also impact rumen microbiota populations, which play a key role in regulating feed intake, rumen function and overall digestive health. Most significantly, the fibrolytic populations – which belong to a functional family that can degrade carbohydrates – are particularly sensitive to low pH environments. This means that their numbers decrease after a shift to high energy diets, such as in the transition period. The effect of fibrolytic populations decreasing mean that cows are less able to digest and absorb nutrients.

How to spot a potential problem

There are a number of simple observations during the transition period which can help indicate issues with rumen function.

Monitoring and scoring rumen fill is a simple but very important tool to help achieve a successful transition. A rumen fill score of 4 during the dry period indicates good rumen function and will ensure adequate dry matter intake (DMI) pre-calving, which in turn, will help to maximise DMI post-calving.

Transition scoring

A sub-optimal body condition score (BCS) is a key risk factor when it comes to issues post-calving related to a negative energy balance. The aim is to have cows at a BCS of 3 – 3.25 at drying off, maintaining this throughout the transition period. Carry out weekly scoring from drying-off to ensure cows are maintaining and not gaining or losing weight.

The key to success

With all this in mind, transition diets need to be specifically tailored to suit the nutritional requirements of the cow. Any practices or dietary supplements that promote healthy rumen function and increase dry matter intake immediately post calving should be prioritised.

If transition feeding is managed properly, producers will be rewarded with high yields, reduced risk of metabolic disorders, better fertility and improved longevity of cows within the herd.

For more information

For more information about our transition diets, supplementary products or for advice on transition management please speak to your local ForFarmers Account Manager or send us an online enquiry:

Contact a Dairy Specialist