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Easy calving reduces the risk of hypocalcemia and milk fever in dairy cows

The window of opportunity for reducing milk fever of dairy cows is short

If systemic immune activation occurs during the transition to lactation of dairy cows, one of the defence mechanisms of a cow is to reduce her blood calcium levels. Cow colostrum and milk contain large quantities of calcium. The amounts of calcium that a cow needs directly after calving can therefore easily double. In response to this drop in blood calcium levels and this increase in calcium demand, dairy cows try to increase the uptake of calcium from the diet and they try to mobilise calcium from the bones. This requires a hormonal adaptation which takes about 2 days.

Older cows have a less active bone metabolism, so they have problems with low blood calcium levels more often. This is why clinical milk fever of dairy cattle is mostly seen in multiparous dairy cows. Most of the cows with low calcium levels in their blood immediately after calving don’t develop visible signs of milk fever but are suffering from subclinical milk fever. For every cow in the herd with clinical milk fever, there are usually 4 cows with subclinical milk fever35.

The poor metabolic and immune adaptation that comes with subclinical milk fever in dairy cows results in:

  • A decrease in dry matter intake
  • An increased risk of ketosis
  • Low milk production
  • An increased incidence of retained placenta and infections of the reproductive tract, resulting in poor fertility36
  • An increase in the incidence of mastitis38
  • An increased incidence of displaced abomasum
  • An increase of the involuntary culling rate in the dairy herd

Reduce systemic immune activation in dairy cows to reduce the risk of subclinical hypocalcaemia and manage the transition to lactation in such a way that stress is minimal. If this transition to lactation is not managed properly, a high rate of involuntary culling in the first 100 days after calving occurs7,27,28, resulting in a serious negative impact on dairy farm profitability32,33.

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.

Learn more about managing the calcium balance of your dairy herd

Reducing the incidence of subclinical and clinical milk fever in dairy cows starts with ensuring the calving process is smooth. For more information please download our Technical brochure “Managing the calving process to start a successful lactation” and our calving protocol. For specific information about managing the calcium balance of dairy cows, please download our protocol on hypocalcaemia and milk fever and our Technical brochure “Hypocalcaemia, the hidden threat for farmers”.

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