Talking with nutritionists drives home the practical importance of a healthy energy status during the transition period in 2010. Energy status and transition performance move in lockstep in well-managed dairies, they say.

That’s because optimal energy status allows cows to come through the transition period in good health with fewer dollars spent on treatments, fewer death losses and higher peak milks. We know university and field studies show that supporting energy status by feeding rumen-protected choline helps the liver process energy more effectively, which reduces excess fat accumulations in the liver and helps the cow manage her energy status and the demands of early lactation. But we’ve seen nutritionists apply his knowledge to improve herd health and productivity. Here are some of their stories.

Revitalizing transition

glen noll

Most producers don’t want to have to touch a fresh cow, says Glenn Noll (left) , dairy nutrition specialist at Land O’Lakes Purina Feed in Pleasant Lake, Indiana. Noll includes rumen-protected choline two to three weeks pre-calving and sometimes up to 30 days post-calving to help them come through transition, take off in milk and be healthier. They have fewer problems, produce more milk, and you can see a difference in how they look and act, Noll says.

In 2009, he says milk production suffered when rations began being changed to reduce costs. Reducing costs reduced milk production, he adds.

Now producers are looking for the opportunity to restore rations, to restore their transition cows to optimal energy status. Raw or unprotected choline, even in massive amounts, delivers very little choline to the small intestine for absorption. Instead, most of the choline is degraded in the rumen. He says rumen-protected choline plays an important role in revitalizing a transition diet.


Health impact

marcelo oberto

Marcelo F. Oberto (right) , a veterinarian and nutritionist at Inter-Ag LLC in Fort Wayne, Indiana, remembers an eye-opening experience from 2003. A customer with a new expansion dairy had numerous late-lactation heifers, animals averaging 500 days in milk, that were on rBST and fed only one lactating TMR for all the milk cows. A large percentage of these cows went dry too fat, and many died soon after calving, showing strong signs of ketosis even though they had been fed a low-energy dry cow/close-up diet.

To gain insights, non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) samples were run on the remaining pre-fresh cows 10 to 14 days before their calving due dates and BHBA samples were run on the post-fresh cows 7 to 10 days post-fresh. Extremely high NEFA and beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA) numbers told the story: The cows were developing fatty livers up to two weeks pre-calving. Even small accumulations of fat can decrease the liver’s metabolic function and impact overall energy metabolism in early lactation, according to industry research.

When rumen-protected choline was added to the pre-fresh ration three to four weeks pre-calving and to the fresh cow ration up to two weeks post-calving, cows went from dying to surviving, Oberto says. It was a significant response within two to three weeks.

Keeping rumen-protected choline in the ration can be a cheap insurance policy. If dairymen feel their cows are coming through transition healthy with minimal metabolic disorders, eating and milking well, they’re willing to pay a little more, Oberto says. He recommends feeding it in the close-up period 21 days-pre calving, and in the fresh groups, 14 to 21 days post-calving.

Efficient glucose production in early lactation helps drive health, milk yield and fertility. How well the cow coordinates energy metabolism and generates glucose is a key determinate of milk, production and reproductive efficiency.

Any condition that impairs liver function in the early transition cow impairs the liver’s ability to orchestrate energy metabolism and generate glucose. Impaired liver function can lead to subclinical energy-related disorders such as ketosis, metritis, displaced abomasums and mastitis.

Liver function

paul samp

It’s all about liver function, according to Paul Samp (left) , a large dairy herd specialist at Land O‘Lakes Purina Feed in Alpena, Michigan, who has 17 years experience. The transition diet is where you don’t want to cut costs because if the cows are off at transition, they will be off the whole lactation, Samp says.

When dairies cheapened rations in 2009 to spare the bottom line, Samp began seeing an increase in metabolic problems in multi-lactation cows. Ketosis was the biggest problem. The local veterinarian likewise questioned the level of liver function in cows, especially cows that responded slowly to ketosis treatment. Often the situation involved a healthy over-conditioned cow or a necropsied cow with excessive fat depositions on the liver, Samp says.

Industry research and field studies indicate that cows fed rumen-protected choline demonstrate a significant reduction in ketosis along with retained placentas, diarrhea and displaced abomasums when compared to control groups. They also demonstrate a significant change in first-service conception rates as compared to control groups.

Supporting optimal energy status during the transition period promotes the ability of the cow to produce and perform at her best. By assuring that her nutritional needs are met, nutritionists and producers support the herd’s short- and long-term well-being. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request by sending an email to .

When formulating transition cow rations, which additives are you most likely to include?

Samp: “Quite often, the feed additives included in my transition cow rations include yeast culture, monensin and rumen-protected choline.”

Oberto: "If you feed a cow right, you don’t need to feed a lot of additives. Most of my dry cow diets are pretty simple. I would have monensin in a lot of the diets for a few cents a day. If a herd has a specific need, such as ketosis, we would address that.”

Glen Aines
  • Glen Aines

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