Appropriate management of dairy cows in the peripartum period improves the ability of cows to adapt effectively to lactation and leads to better health and increased longevity. In a review paper, recently published in CAB Reviews, leading European scientists, including scientists of Wageningen University and Wageningen UR Livestock Research, advocate for a multidisciplinary approach to understand and manage adaptation to a new lactation aiming at an improvement of cow welfare and longevity.
Enhancing longevity by reducing involuntary culling and consequently increasing productive life and lifetime production of dairy cows is not only a strategy to improve farm’s profit, but is also related to improved animal welfare and feed efficiency. High rates of involuntary culling in dairy cows are mainly attributed to fertility problems, mastitis and locomotive disorders. The incidence of those problems is high in particular in the early-lactation period. The high disease incidence in early lactation has been attributed to metabolic stress related to the high metabolic priority for lactation and the inability of the cow to adapt effectively to the new lactation. Several biological mechanisms interact in the transition period of dairy cows and can result in this inability to adapt effectively to lactation. Biological mechanisms are metabolic adaptation, oxidative stress, immune function and inflammation, and feed intake capacity. Although relationships between these mechanisms become increasingly clear, these relationships are complex and not yet completely understood. Appropriate management of dairy cows in the transition period can facilitate cows to adapt to a new lactation. Nutritional and management strategies to support adaptation are divided into strategies to restrict energy intake in the dry period, to improve energy intake in early lactation, to repartition energy between milk and body tissue, and strategies to support fat or carbohydrate metabolism. The success of various strategies however is often hampered by the complexity of interactions and high between-cow variation. A multidisciplinary approach is necessary to understand these complex interactions.
The publication in CAB Reviews resulted from two workshops, sponsored by BASF (Germany) and organized by some of the authors in Dummerstorf, Germany (2012) and Piacenza, Italy (2013). Topic of both workshops was ‘Metabolism and immune function of high-yielding dairy cows.’