Nutrition Plus

Dairy Nutrition Plus

Volume 12, Issue 4 July 2016

Transition Cows Key to More Milk, Better Repro

Transition Cows Key to More Milk, Better Repro

If producers don’t see clinical milk fever and clinical ketosis, they often think all is good with the transition cows. But that is far from the truth.

“We miss the big picture when we only focus on clinical disease,” explains Thomas R. Overton, professor of dairy management at Cornell University. “When metabolism is off during the transition period the problem may or may not show up as clinical disease. But it does show up as lower milk production and reduced reproductive performance.”

Recent research has connected the dots between subclinical disease during the transition period and reduced milk production and lower reproductive performance. Thanks to several large datasets of commercial dairy herds we now know that subclinical ketosis and subclinical hypocalcemia lead to lower milk and reproductive performance.

“We need to shift our mindset from the transition cow as a disease opportunity to the transition cow as a production and reproduction opportunity,” says Overton. Producers who have made this shift in mindset routinely see more milk production – about 2 to 4 lbs/cow/day – and one to two units increase in 21 day pregnancy rate and less incidence of clinical disease. These production improvements are economically meaningful and they are achievable.

What the research tells us

In the last 10 to 15 years the industry has learned and implemented a lot of changes for transition cows, such as dietary cation anion diets (DCAD), controlled energy diets, and changes in groupings to name a few. But the large datasets collected and analyzed from commercial dairy herds have revealed even more opportunity exists to improve transition cow health and performance.

For example, a study by Chapinal et al, 2012, focused on calcium status, ketone levels and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA). Herds with greater numbers of cows with low blood calcium at one week after calving had twice the rate of displaced abomasums, produced 6 to 8 lbs/cow/day of less milk on first test day and had a 30% decrease in first AI conception rates.

Another study by Ospina et al, 2010, looked at elevated NEFA and beta hydroxy butyric acid (BHBA) levels in transition cows. The researchers found that when more than 15% of cows in a herd had prepartum NEFA levels of ≥ 0.3 mEq/L that clinical disease incidence increased by 3.6%, pregnancy rate declined by 1.2%, and milk yield dropped by 529 lbs on a 305ME basis for both cows and heifers.

In herds where more than 15% of cows had postpartum NEFA levels of ≥ 0.6-0.7 mEq/L clinical disease incidence increased by 1.7%, pregnancy rate decreased by 0.9% and 305ME milk production declined by 640 lbs for heifers and 1,272 lbs for cows.

When looking at postpartum BHBA in those same herds, the researchers found that when more than 15% of cows in a herd had a BHBA ≥ 10-12 mg/dL clinical disease incidence increased by 1.8%, pregnancy rate declined by 0.8% and 305ME milk production dropped by 1,179 lbs for heifers and 732 lbs for cows.

In the Ospina research, a herd incidence rate of 15% was the alarm level. (This was the cut point most predictive of herd level opportunities.) In the study 75% of herds were above the alarm level for prepartum NEFAs and 40% of herds were above the alarm level for BHBA.

Another study by Lawton et al., 2015 JAM looked at the prevalence of hyperketonemia between three and 14 days in milk on 71 commercial dairies. They found that 50% of herds had more than 15% of cows with a BHBA above 1.2mmol/L.

As researchers have been doing more epidemiological studies of the data from commercial dairy herds the link between subclinical hypocalcemia and subclinical ketosis with reduced milk production and reproductive performance has become clear. Subclinical hypocalcemia and ketosis carry long-term economic consequences.

Make a difference

“We tend to focus on the challenges in our face when they occur,” says Overton. But clinical cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The good news is that subclinical hypocalcemia and subclinical ketosis, as well as many of the common transition cow problems; are preventable.

Overton says when DCAD diets were first introduced he was skeptical of the value because low potassium forages are readily available in the Northeast and many herds already have a very low incidence of clinical milk fever without feeding anions. But since this new research has shown the economic losses from subclinical disease he has become a believer. “I’ve become much more aggressive in using DCAD diets to combat subclinical problems and the results have been good.”

Producers tend to look for that one big nutritional tweak that will make a difference. But from what we have seen it can be a lot of little things that make the difference. Implementing DCAD diets, small changes in feeding management such as getting particle size right, grouping and stocking density, and heat stress all affect the transition cow’s ability to thrive.

It doesn’t take a lot to throw things out of balance. It may be a slug of cows freshening at once that changes the pen dynamics and increases competition at the bunk. It could be a change in forage quality that no one noticed. Sometimes the solution is found in ration formulation, but more often than not it is the other little things that make the difference.

“Whenever I ask producers if it is worth it to go after the extra milk and better reproductive performance the answer is yes,” says Overton. It takes an intensity of management, but many who have sought to minimize subclinical disease in transition cows have been successful. In fact, a review of Cornell data from 72 New York and Vermont herds shows that many herds do succeed:

Health event < 31 DIM Achievable Rate Herds That Achieve That Rate
Subclinical ketosis BHBA ≥ 1.2mmol/L < 15% 51.4 %
Displaced Abomasums < 3% 76.8%
Retained Fetal Membranes < 8 % 63.4%

Clinical milk fever is a thing of the past on many farms. Today the opportunity lies in minimizing subclinical disease, stresses Overton. Producers who have changed their mindset in order to pursue the additional milk and reproductive performance that comes with minimizing subclinical disease are glad they did.

Take for example, a 1,000-cow dairy from northern New York. They were seeing 30+% of cows with subclinical ketosis as determined by weekly blood BHBA monitoring in the fresh pen. Those rates dropped to less than 15% and milk production increased by 3 to 4 lbs/cow/day over time. It wasn’t a big overhaul of the nutritional program; rather we identified that the particle size of the straw and hay in the dry cow rations was too long. Maintenance on the mixer and knives and getting feeding management right every day made a big difference in overall fresh cow health and performance. Changing your mindset about transition cows can make an economic impact on your dairy, too.

To learn more about what is achievable on farm, check out the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program Transition Cow Guidelines at:

From the Maternity Pen
Three Ways to Improve Maternity Outcomes

If you want better maternity pen outcomes; stack the odds in your favor. Katy Proudfoot, assistant professor of veterinary medicine at the Ohio State University has developed a list of three things that you can do to improve maternity outcomes on your farm.

Three Ways to Improve Maternity Outcomes
  1. Train maternity staff

    Training the staff to recognize the signs of calving and when to assist can help reduce the stillbirth rate on your farm. Research conducted by Gustavo Schuenemann, extension dairy veterinarian at OSU, shows that the stillbirth rate on dairies declined by about 9% after employees completed calving management training. To learn more about training your staff please see: “Calving Management Training: Dystocia and Calf Care” at

  2. Improve cow comfort

    In the study Proudfoot et al, 2010, researchers examined cows at mid-lactation to look for claw horn lesions. Then they retrospectively looked at behavior during the transition period. They found that during the two weeks before calving, cows that developed lesions spent about 90 minutes more time perching with front feet in stalls than cows without lesions.

    In herds where lameness is a problem try widening or lengthening the stalls in the dry pen first. (This has been shown to reduce perching and lameness in lactating cows.) If you see good results you can try it in the fresh-cow pens too. “Ultimately, the more comfortable the cows are throughout the dry and lactating periods, the less likely they are to have lameness,” says Proudfoot.

  3. Provide secluded calving areas

    New research has shown that when given a choice of calving in an open area or in a secluded area cows prefer the secluded area by nearly 2-to-1. But only if they calve during the day; at night they prefer the open area.

    Proudfoot says she has had several producers with individual calving pens block off one or two sides to create a secluded calving area. Producers report that their cows seemed more comfortable during calving, and that they experienced fewer dystocia. For best results, the partition should be placed between the pen and the noisy/high traffic areas.

    For producers with group calving pens, it is not yet known if secluded calving areas are practical. However, a study to answer that question is underway.

Consultants Corner
Use Sucrose, Lactose to Increase Energy in the Diet

Masahito Oba
  • By Masahito Oba
  • University of Alberta

Increasing dietary nonfiber carbohydrates (NFC) in the diet is a tried and true method to maximize milk production in high-producing dairy cows. To boost starch in the diet, we often add more corn or other cereal grains. As demand and the cost of these grains have risen, lower-cost alternatives have been sought out.

Partial replacement of grains with high-sugar byproducts such as sucrose (molasses) and lactose (whey) can decrease feed cost and maintain high milk production. Research conducted at the University of Alberta investigated the effect of increasing dietary NFC with starch, sucrose or lactose on rumen fermentation, VFA absorption and milk production. The results show that sucrose and lactose can deliver great results.

The research

Four diets were fed. The control diet had 27% starch and 4% sugar on a dry matter basis. Three high-NFC diets were used. The starch diet replaced the beet pulp in the control diet with corn for a 32% starch and 4% sugar content on a dry matter basis. The other two diets replaced beet pulp in the control diet with either 5.5% sucrose or lactose. Both diets had a 27% starch content and 9% sugar content on a dry matter basis. Diets were formulated to meet or exceed the nutritional requirements of a 1,450 lb cow producing 88 lbs of milk per day.

Dry matter intake was the highest for cows fed the sucrose and lactose diets. They consumed 60.5 lbs/cow/day compared to 58 lbs/cow/day for control cows.

Milk yield was not statistically different between control cows and cows fed the sucrose and lactose diets. However, milk yield for cows fed the sucrose and lactose diets was greater than cows fed the starch diet. In addition, cows fed the sucrose and lactose diets also had higher milk fat, protein and energy-corrected milk yields than cows fed the starch diet.

Rumen pH was slightly decreased for the high-sugar diets in this study. However, partially replacing dietary starch with disaccharides did not have any negative effects on feed intake or milk production.

Researchers concluded that increasing dietary NFC content by feeding more sugars can be a viable option to maximize energy intake and productivity in dairy cows without increasing the risk for ruminal acidosis.

You can read the full paper “Effect of Increasing Nonfiber Carbohydrate with Starch, Sucrose or Lactose on Rumen Fermentation and Productivity of Lactating Dairy Cows,” in the Journal of Dairy Science at:

Beyond Bypass
Valine Shows Promise to Boost Milk Production

Valine Shows Promise to Boost Milk Production

New research shows that feeding rumen degradable valine to late-lactation cows increases milk production. In fact, in this hypothesis testing trial, the milk production response was similar to the response seen from supplementing cows with a single dose of recombinant bST.

The research, which was conducted at South Dakota State University and reported in the Journal of Dairy Science, showed that the increase in milk yield was similar for cows supplemented with recombinant bST and for cows fed rumen-degradable valine at either 40 g/day or 80 g/day. The average milk production response for the three treatments was 7.5 lbs/milk/day.

All cows enrolled in the study were 90+ days in milk. All received a TMR balanced for cows producing 85 lbs of milk per day. Synthetic valine was supplemented at rate of 40 g/day or 80 g/day. Compared to control cows, milk fat and milk protein yield was greater for cows receiving recombinant bST and both valine treatments. Cows supplemented with valine had higher MUN scores than control cows and recombinant bST cows. Body condition score and changes in BCS were similar for all treatments.

“Our study confirms the hypothesis that feeding rumen-degradable valine will increase milk production to similar amounts achieved with recombinant bST,” explains David Casper, assistant professor of dairy nutrition at SDSU. As the world population continues to grow, the demand for milk and milk products will increase. However, the use of recombinant bST has been banned in the European Union, Canada and by some milk processors and food service companies in the United States. This limits producers’ ability to efficiently increase milk production.

This study with valine is different from traditional supplemental amino acid work like with lysine and methionine. In this study the valine was metabolized by rumen microbes and converted into iso-acids which then created functional metabolites.

The results look promising for future on-farm use. More research is needed to determine the exact mechanism which resulted in the increased milk production. Feeding rumen-degradable valine to lactating dairy cows could become a viable replacement to recombinant bST for dairy producers who cannot utilize the tool due to consumer requests.

To read the full article, “Effects of Feeding Rumen-Degradable Valine on Milk Production in Late-Lactation Dairy Cows,” go to:

Dairy Nutrition Plus Team Offers Extensive Knowledge

When it comes to managing tight margins, dairy producers understand better than anyone how much every cent matters. Even the slightest change in feed ingredient cost impacts the bottom line. At Landus Cooperative®, we turn to Soy Merchandiser and Risk Manager Steven Johnson to help us stay in the black. Year after year Steven has served as our trusted source of marketing knowledge, which is why we’ve asked that he be a resource to our customers as well.

When Steven joined the Dairy Nutrition Plus® team in 2008, it was important to the company that his role deliver not just marketing expertise, but valuable customer service as well. “My job is more than just merchandising and managing risk. Our team wants to offer a high level of service to our buyers, so part of my job is to be a resource to our sales force and help them better answer buyers’ market questions out in the field,” said Johnson.

Steven grew up on a wheat farm in North Dakota, where he got his first glimpse of agricultural markets long before studying business finance and economics at Montana State University. He put his education and agricultural background to work as a grain merchandiser at FC Stone, learning the ins and outs of commodities trading. His knowledge of the marketplace and affinity for agriculture made him a natural fit for the Dairy Nutrition Plus team. Steven spends his days overseeing contracts and cash and futures positions for soybeans, soybean meal, and soybean oil, and has established himself as a resource to many of our buyers as they ponder marketing qualms.

Dairy Nutrition Plus Team Offers Extensive Knowledge

“The fundamentals are easier to follow. They change slower and they are very finite. But when you start talking about outside markets and other influencers, it all becomes so vague and abstract,” he said. Steven looks beyond just USDA data reports, weather forecasts and yield maps. He considers the impact of more complex global issues on the agricultural markets, trying to take into account how events like an election in Argentina, or Great Britain’s vote to exit the EU, may affect domestic crop prices.

He considers it an important part of his job to aggregate complicated information, and translate it into something meaningful and easy to grasp for anyone who’s interested in learning more, whether that be coworkers he sits next to, or customers across the country.

To allow our customers easier access to his insights, Steven posts weekly market commentary videos to the Dairy Nutrition Plus website. “I try to take what may appear to be boring data and put it in terms that make you want to follow along,” he said.

You can access Steven’s weekly market commentary by visiting the Dairy Nutrition Plus knowledgebase at:

Quality Corner
SoyChlor Process Delivers Consistency Dairy Producers Rely On

SoyChlor Process Delivers Consistency Dairy Producers Rely On

There are so many inconsistent variables on the farm affecting the diet of the pre-fresh cow and the success of a DCAD program, but the nutrient content of SoyChlor® is not one of those. Rigorous product testing and adherence to reputable certifications help the SoyChlor manufacturing team deliver the consistency our customers need.

As part of our process controls, the chloride content of SoyChlor is tested daily during production by a rapid, sensitive, and accurate silver chloride titration method. This results in 6-8 tests every working day. Chloride is the most important nutrient in an anionic supplement like SoyChlor. If chloride levels were ever off, the product would never get packaged.

In 2015, we performed 1,816 chloride tests for finished product. Not one of those tests found results outside of our specifications.

To monitor the more comprehensive nutrient profile, SoyChlor is subjected to third-party analysis each week by Cumberland Valley Analytical Services, a reputable, independent laboratory. Further, a sample from every manufacturing lot is securely stored for 6 months after production, in case further analyses are ever requested.

The consistency of our results is further elevated by a well-embraced culture of quality control which has been generated in part by our company’s ongoing compliance to a number of respected certifications. There is never a question as to what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and who needs to do it. Meeting standards set by HAACP, ISO 9001, and the German standard QS provides further assurance to customers that every step of our process is monitored by third-party oversight and guided by well-planned protocols.

If you’d like to see the results of SoyChlor product testing, or learn more about our quality certifications, give us a call at 800.843.4769 or visit