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A novel nutritional strategy to prevent milk fever and stimulate milk production in dairy cows

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AIMS: To assess the efficacy of a feed supplement designed to reduce the dietary availability of calcium when fed during the last 2-3 weeks of pregnancy, on the incidence of postparturient hypocalcaemia (milk fever) and on milksolids (MS) production in pasture-fed dairy cows in early lactation.

METHODS: In Experiment 1, late-pregnant Holstein/Friesian cows, 4-10 years old, grazing pasture, were either fed the supplement (1 kg/cow/day) for 2-4 weeks prior to calving (n=11) or no supplement (n=10). Plasma calcium concentrations were measured immediately before and after a 20 h fast intended to induce hypocalcaemia at the end of this period, 1-7 days before the cows calved. In Experiment 2, mixed-breed dairy cows, 3-10 years old in 7 commercial dairy herds were fed the same supplement (1 kg/cow/day) for 1-3 weeks immediately prior to calving (n=565) or no supplement (n=614), and incidences of clinical milk fever and MS production at 6-9 weeks post calving were compared between groups.

RESULTS: In Experiment 1, plasma calcium concentrations were higher (p=0.01) in supplemented than in non-supplemented cows after fasting, indicating reduced susceptibility to fasting-induced hypocalcaemia. In Experiment 2, the incidence of milk fever was lower (6.4% vs 17.1%, p=0.001) and MS production was higher (p=0.01) in supplemented than in non-supplemented cows.

CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary results demonstrate that feeding a supplement designed to reduce dietary calcium availability for 2-4 weeks immediately prior to calving reduced the susceptibility of cows to fasting-induced hypocalcaemia, reduced the incidence of clinical milk fever and increased MS production in early lactation.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The concept and product reported here have potential to provide dairy farmers with a practical means to prevent hypocalcaemia and improve milk production during early lactation.

KEY WORDS: Hypocalcaemia, milk fever, dairy cow nutrition, Calcigard.
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Keywords: Cattle - dairy; Hypocalcaemia; Milk fever; Milk production; Nutrition

Document Type: Short Communication

Publication date: 01 April 2001

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