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Selko | Transition Management


Increase feed intake in early lactation to reduce negative energy balance of dairy cows

Important to know...

Clinical ketosis in dairy cows is only the tip of the iceberg

Two weeks before calving, the strong decrease in dry matter intake can already result in a negative energy balance (NEB)34. Dairy cows in NEB have an increased risk to develop subclinical or clinical ketosis. Clinical ketosis in dairy cows is highly visible, but is only the tip of the iceberg.

Subclinical ketosis in cattle is much more common than clinical ketosis in cattle is. Prevention of ketosis in cattle starts with recognising the signs of subclinical cow ketosis. Signs suggestive of subclinical ketosis as a result of negative energy balance in dairy cows are51,52:

  • Low dry matter intake
  • A drop of more than 1,0 point in body condition score
  • Low milk production with a reduction of protein levels in milk
  • Poor fertility
  • Impaired immune function

The mobilisation of body fat reserves in case of negative energy balance in dairy cows results in a release of non esterified fatty acids (NEFA’s). When this mobilization is adequate and well regulated, these NEFA’s can be fully metabolized to cover the energy needs of dairy cattle for milk production. If this adaptation fails, metabolic stress occurs37. This increases the risk to develop a number of metabolic disorders such as milk fever, subclinical ketosis in cows or clinical ketosis in cows.

Managing the negative energy balance in dairy cows correctly will therefore greatly improve dairy farm profitability.

How to measure the Body Condition Score of a dairy cow?

Joep Driessen from the CowSignals training group explains how the body condition score (BCS) of dairy cows should be measured. This can’t be done on the basis of visual inspection only, it is important to feel how much fat is under the skin of the cow. The ideal BCS for a dairy cow is 3.0.

If the BCS is 2.0 or below, there is something wrong, there may be a problem such assubclinical ketosis in cattle. If the milk production starts dropping at the end of lactation and there is no possibility to adapt the diet, the BCS of a late lactation cow will increase to 4.0 or higher. This will result in problems around calving and an increased risk of involuntary culling during the next lactation.

Download more research and documentation

You can access all of our documentation about Selko protocols, sustainable dairy farming and latest research insights about Dairry Cow transition management.

Manage the Body Condition Score and the Negative Energy Balance correctly

To better monitor the Body Condition Score we have created a poster with visuals of cows with Body condition scores between 1 and 5. This can help you to ensure cows have a BCS between 3 and 3.5 at calving.

Our Selko Protocol on managing the negative energy balance of dairy cows provides practical tips on how to reduce the impact of NEB.

The Selko technical brochure "Managing the negative energy balance in cows" reviews all the latest scientific insights on NEB.

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Selko | Solutions based science

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