The 21st Annual Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on April 24 and 25, 2012. This annual conference provided its 450 attendees the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of nutrition topics, including talks on nutrition and milk composition, forage management, dairy farm profitability and timely topics such as use of automatic calf feeders.

Adolph tamilee
Dairy Nutritionist / ADM Animal Nutrition
Tamilee Nennich Adolph is a Midwest dairy nutritionist with ADM Animal Nutrition. After receiving...

At the conference this year, “Nutrition and Health” was the theme of one of the sessions. Two talks were presented under this thematic area.

Dr. Barry Bradford of Kansas State University presented on immunity and health, and Dr. David Beede of Michigan State University focused on the importance of water and water quality for lactating dairy cattle.

Nutrition and immunity

The role nutrition plays in immunity and the interaction between immunity and metabolism is continuing to be fully explored.

Bradford highlighted that, regardless of lactation number, approximately 40 percent of the diseases cows get during transition are metabolic and 60 percent are infectious diseases. However, metabolic and infectious diseases appear to have some interaction in the body.


When a transition cow comes down with an infectious disease, they are often more susceptible to a metabolic disease and vice versa.

Rapid metabolic changes, like those common during transition, often are precursors for metabolic diseases. However, a drop in the immune function of the animal also appears to be able to explain some of the transition cow diseases.

When an infection occurs, there are systemic indicators that an inflammatory response is occurring. Bradford discussed that there are some indications that these inflammatory responses may be playing a role in metabolic diseases.

Studies have indicated a relationship between inflammation response levels and the incidence of disease that occurs during the transition period.

The role of various nutrients on the levels of infections in dairy cows is still unclear. There has been evidence showing that selenium, calcium, vitamin E and fatty acids can affect the function of immune cells.

In addition, vitamin C, vitamin D and glucose may also have roles in immunity that are not fully understood at this time.

Bradford’s tips for producers and nutritionists are to pay attention to the body condition of dairy cows at calving, evaluate different feed additives available that may help to combat oxidative stress and use antioxidants to help neutralize reactive oxygen species that can increase inflammation.

An understanding of the relationships between nutrition and immunity in dairy cows is still a work in progress and some areas are just beginning to be understood.

Future work in the area of nutrition and immunity will help improve our understanding of an animal’s immune function and will uncover nutritional strategies to be used to enhance immune function.

Water quality and dairy cattle

Beede discussed the importance of water availability and water quality for dairy cows. Water is the most important nutrient source for lactating dairy cattle and an abundant supply of high-quality water is important to maintain the production and health of cows.

Although focus is often placed on the quantity of water available, the quality of that water is also very important.

Beede stated that the most common water issues producers in the U.S. have are with high levels of iron, sulfates and chloride.

However, the only way to truly determine the quality of the water is to sample and analyze it on a regular basis.

If a water quality issue is determined to be present, finding an alternative water source or dilution may be options. Otherwise, there are water treatment methods available.

Examples of water treatment options include chlorination with filtration, ion exchange and reverse osmosis. If water treatment is a potential course of action, Beede recommends contacting at least two to three treatment companies to determine what options they have available.

Also, make sure the treatment option is the correct method to reduce constituent that is in excess in the water. Finally, if a water treatment system is installed, sample the water at least every three months to ensure the system is working properly.

Although water quality is important, Beede commented about the importance of water availability. Producers need to make sure there is enough space for cows to drink. Ideally, cows should have at least two linear inches per cow and transition cows should have three to four inches available per cow.

Cows should not have to walk more than 50 feet to be able to access water and their water should be located near the feed source.

In summary, water should be tested on a regular basis to determine the quality of the drinking water for cows.

If there are constituents of concern present, explore the options available to improve the quality of the water available to cows. Finally, remember that water availability is still a key factor.