Transition period in dairy cows

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Transition period in dairy cows

Late pregnancy into lactation – a critical phase

The phase from late pregnancy to lactation (around 3 weeks prior to and 3 weeks post parturition) is known as the transition period and is a highly critical phase for dairy cows and poses numerous physiological challenges.

The challenges of parturition

During this phase there is an increased risk of metabolic disorders of calcium homeostasis resulting in parturient paresis. In addition, the frequently low feed intake after calving combined with a high energy requirement (for the synthesis of colostrum and milk) leads to a negative energy balance. As a result, there is a strong mobilisation of body fat, which can lead to ketosis and fatty liver without intervention. 

Metabolic imbalances, especially calcium deficiency after calving, are in practice often "door openers" for further (metabolic) diseases. 

Calcium is necessary for many metabolic functions, such as skeletal formation, transmission of nerve impulses, muscle movement, blood clotting and enzyme activities, including insulin balance. With the onset of lactation, the need for calcium increases dramatically. At the end of gestation, the daily calcium requirement for the foetus is 4-5 g, a litre of milk contains 1.25 g calcium, a litre of colostrum even 2-2.5 g calcium. The regulatory mechanisms are extraordinarily challenged to keep the blood calcium concentration within the physiological range. The parathormone from the parathyroid gland, the calcitonin from the thyroid gland and the vitamin D3 (calcitriol) are at the centre of the regulation. It should be emphasised that hypocalcaemic parturient paresis is not caused by a primary calcium deficiency, but by a regulatory disorder of the above mechanisms. As calcium is involved in the control of insulin, hypocalcaemia after calving is often a gateway to other (metabolic) diseases, as demonstrated in the figure below. 

Ketosis, a major challenge

  • Glucose is the universal fuel for all metabolic processes, including reproductive performance. In contrast to the monogastric animal, only little glucose is available to the ruminant in the intestine for absorption, as the carbohydrates have already been broken down into short-chain fatty acids in the rumen and absorbed. Of these, propionate in particular is used for gluconeogenesis. The concentration of propionate in the cow's blood is highest shortly after feed intake and subsequently also the activity of gluconeogenesis in the liver, the main organ of gluconeogenesis. In high-yielding dairy cows, effective gluconeogenesis is essential to regulate the glucose concentration in the blood. 
  • The start of lactation is characterised by a rapid increase in milk yield with a delayed increase in the corresponding feed intake. As milk production is prioritised physiologically, the entry of glucose into the udder tissue is insulin-independent, and not directly glucose-dependent. This results in a negative energy balance meaning the body must mobilise reserves. This mobilisation generates an increase in non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) in the blood. If these cannot be metabolised into energy via β-oxidation because the processing capacity of the liver is permanently exceeded, triglycerides accumulate in the liver tissue and and the risk for a fatty liver syndrome increases. Elevated ketone body concentrations cause a reluctance to eat and, in severe cases, also trigger nervous symptoms. The loss of appetite varies initially, then increases, with silage and concentrates and finally hay no longer being eaten. The cows gets lean and the milk yield decreases. 
  • As in the case of parturient paresis, numerous secondary diseases of feed intake depression can also occur in the case of ketosis. These lead to reduced performance overall and may require veterinary treatment or even the removal of sick animals from the herd. 

Ease the transition period – the solution

During fat mobilisation, free fatty acids, free radicals (ROS) and pro-inflammatory cytokines stress the endoplasmic reticulum in the cell (ER stress). This process promotes the development of metabolic diseases (fatty liver syndrome, ketosis, insulin resistance) and chronic inflammation. The effective reduction of ER stress in the cell can prevent this. Especially plant polyphenols show positive effects on the cellular level in this regard. 

  • Spicemaster products by Kaesler Nutrition with its main ingredients of green tea and turmeric uses this effect of polyphenols. Due to their high antioxidant potential, they reduce oxidative stress and stabilise the metabolism, which leads to lower inflammation and can ultimately result in higher milk yields. 


Say no to negative! 

At the onset of lactation, it is important to break the vicious circle of negative energy balance, fat mobilisation and fatty liver syndrome. Effective energy metabolism is crucial here, whereby L-carnitine plays a key role by transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria, where they are metabolised by β-oxidation to produce energy. 

The more fats are broken down, the more important is the breakdown of acetyl-CoA by excretion of acetylcarnitine via urine and milk. This describes a further important function of L-carnitine. This reduces the formation of ketone bodies and the risk of ketosis. 

  • The Carneon range by Kaesler Nutrition includes a rumen-protected L-carnitine formulation, which has been especially developed to support the dairy cow in the transition period. Unprotected L-carnitine is degraded by rumen microbes and is therefore not available to ruminants. The special coating technology means the cow's carnitine supply can be improved and the metabolic load reduced. 
Our products for ruminant efficiency
  • Botanicals

    Using botanicals in animal feed can have a positive effect on digestion and maintain general health and well-being.

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  • Carnitine

    L-Carnitine supports energy metabolism and helps the body turn fat into energy .

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