Transition Cows: A Few Ideas to Help Reduce the Headaches

By Cari Slater, Dairy Technical Consultant, Landmark Services Cooperative
608-712-7617 |

Are your transition cows giving you grief? Are you seeing issues like retained placentas (anything over 12 hours fits into this category), ketosis, DAs, metritis, the occasional milk fever case, slow milk start-ups, lower peak milk, or reduced conception rates? Sometimes, we need to take a step back and review the basics. As a nutritionist, my goal is to help producers set these girls up for success and prevent transition problems—rather than trying to fix the problems once they’ve occurred.

When looking at a prefresh diet, I tend to focus on three principles (and I would say that they’re equally important):

  • Mineral Balance (DCAD) and Calcium
  • Energy Level
  • Metabolizable Protein

Mineral Balance: Prefresh dietary mineral balance has a huge impact on the success of your transition cows. While most farms no longer see frequent cases of clinical hypocalcemia (milk fever), there are still plenty of cows that are affected by subclinical hypocalcemia. The latter has been dubbed a “gateway disease” because it leads to many of the transition issues listed above. I typically recommend a negative DCAD, high-calcium diet to my customers as the first option when formulating a prefresh diet to reduce these subclinical cases.

Energy Level: The metabolizable energy of the entire dry period should be monitored and controlled. This is no different for the prefresh diet. The dry period is typically not the time for cows to either gain or lose condition.

Metabolizable Protein:  During the last few weeks of the dry period, the cow’s requirements for metabolizable protein increase greatly. This is driven by her need to grow a calf as well as to develop her udders for the upcoming lactation. Making sure that the diet meets these needs is critical for a productive lactation as well as a healthy calf.

It’s also critical to remember that no matter how well-balanced the diet, there are other factors that can derail your transition cows. These may include:

  • Lack of bunk space
  • Poor cow comfort
  • Moving cows to new pens within seven days of calving
  • Fat cows (they are almost always the first ones to cut back on intakes as they get closer to calving)
  • Inadequate post-fresh ration
  • Twins

Prefresh diets do not need to be complicated. If your dairy is set up to mix a custom prefresh diet, that is always the best approach. However, Landmark does offer solutions for smaller dairies when it comes to feeding your prefresh cows. For example, Landmark carries a negative DCAD prefresh pellet (LSC Prefresh, 26109) that was designed specifically with the small dairy in mind. Whether you have 100 prefresh cows or five, Landmark has options for you.

Please contact a member of the Landmark Animal Nutrition team to talk about how we can help.