Importance of balanced nutrients during transition & lactation

1. Introduction

Transition period is extremely important in determining the calf health, milk production, and reproductive success of the dairy cow. During this period cow’s homeostasis changes from the dry period to milking, it ranges from 21 days before calving to 21 days after calving. The transition period of dairy cattle is characterized by several metabolic, endocrine, physiological, and vulnerable adjustments, resulting in incidence of negative energy balance, hypocalcemia, liver dysfunction, and oxidative stress. The degree and length of time during which these systems remain out of balance would make cows more susceptible to disease, reproductive issues, and reduced milk production and quality. Hence, providing balanced ration and ensuring optimum management practices before calving are critical and play a key role in determining the performance of cows in the lactation phase. A balanced mixture of supplements and feed additives like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, yeast/probiotics, enzymes, etc., are essential for successful transition cow management. Homogeneity of this mixture is critical with respect to uniform herd performance. Blending of these essential constituents in a uniform manner might be a challenge for the small-scale feed miller and farmers, which might further compromise animal performance. To handle this challenge, Trouw Nutrition India has come up with the concept of Maxcare which is a balanced mixture of vitamins, trace minerals, feed supplements, feed additives etc. along with required diluents/carriers. It’s a sustainable, safe, and value-added solution for dairy farmers that delivers the micro constituents in a manner desired by the animal producer.

2. Transition and lactation periods

The transition period of dairy cattle involves the dramatic changes in nutrient requirements that necessitate exquisite coordination of metabolism to meet requirements for energy, glucose, amino acid (AA), and calcium (Ca) by the mammary gland following calving. The demand for glucose, AA, fatty acids, and energy by the pregnant animal at 250 days of gestation and the lactating animal at 4 days postpartum indicate a tripling of demand for glucose, doubling of demand for AA, fourfold increase in calcium requirements and approximately fivefold increase in demand of fatty acids during this timeframe. In addition, to the above requirement, the dry matter intake is less in comparison to the milk produced in the first trimester of lactation making animals prone to loose bodyweight (Fig 1). 

For efficient management of this ever-increasing nutrient demands immediately after parturition, needs optimal nutrient supply both before and after parturition for better milk yield. Increase in the hepatic gluconeogenesis and decrease in oxidation of glucose by peripheral tissues is the primary response from cow to glucose demand. Similarly, cows mobilize the body fat stored into the bloodstream in the form of non-essential fatty acids (NEFA) to meet the overall energetic requirements of the cow during a period of negative energy balance in early lactation, which leads to increased plasma NEFA concentrations. Available evidence suggests that the liver takes up NEFA in proportion to its supply, but it does not have sufficient capacity to completely dispose of NEFA which causes animals to suffer from liver disorders. All these physiological demands predispose cows to disorders like milk fever, hypomagnesaemia, ketosis, fatty liver, hypophosphatemia, reproductive failures, oxidative stress and hoof diseases which can be avoided/minimised by using specific balanced feed supplement/additives in addition to the standard vitamin and minerals requirements. For e.g., biotin and sulphur containing amino acids for good hoof health, rumen-protected choline and niacin for liver health, anionic salts for calcium and phosphorus homeostasis, yeast supplements for rumen health, carotenes for reproductive health, and ionophores to increase productivity by reducing ketosis, displaced abomasum and methane production. Keeping in view of the animals’ requirement, Trouw has designed Maxcare that ensures that these specific feed supplements/additives are blend in a homogenous manner using technologically advanced production technology, to deliver consistent product quality.

Fig-1: Correlation of DMI & milk production to body weight during different phases

3. Specific balanced Feed additives/premixes in the form of Maxcare

3.1.  Rumen Protected Choline and amino acids

Most of the potential application of protected choline within transition cow nutrition is choline’s effect on triglyceride transfer from the liver, especially in early lactation. Its role in minimizing fatty liver formation, improving neurotransmission, and serving as a methyl donor is well established. When choline was infused post ruminal (15 to 90 grams per day), the average milk response to choline was 1 kg milk per day, 17 per cent fat, and 1.5 kg fat corrected milk per day. Choline also spares methionine (10g of choline would provide the equivalent methyl groups found in 44g of methionine). Cornell workers have reported rumen-protected choline significantly reduced NEFA conversion to stored triglyceride and increased glycogen in livers of dairy cows at calving and in early lactation. Amino acids are the building blocks of the body that are needed for many body functions like muscle building, reproduction, enzymes, and immunity. The methionine (Met) and lysine (Lys) are the first two limiting amino acids in milk production. The ideal ratio between Lys and Met should be 3:1 to maximize milk protein output.

3.2. Anionic Salts and Products

Anionic salts and products cause rations to be more acidic, increasing absorption of dietary calcium, and stimulating mobilization of bone calcium due to improvement in parathyroid hormone receptor sites (NRC 2001). When more calcium is available, the cow can maintain blood calcium levels caused by the calcium drain due to milk synthesis. Feeding 100 grams of ammonium chloride and 100 grams of magnesium sulfate for 2 to 3 weeks prepartum has resulted in favorable responses such as reduced milk fever and hypocalcemia, lowered retained placenta, and increased dry matter intake postpartum. Monitoring urine pH is an effective way to determine if adequate levels of the anionic product are being consumed or not. Target values for dairy cows should be between 5.5-6.8 pH for optimal response. If urine pH is over 7, then the benefit of anionic products gets reduced. Similarly, too low urine pH can indicate metabolic acidosis.

3.3. Yeast Culture

Yeast as a live culture stabilizes the rumen environment by reducing the lactate producing bacteria, favouring the growth of fiber-degrading bacteria, and increasing the count of rumen microbes by reducing the rumen’s redox potential. Early lactation cows have reported significant increases in dry matter intake when yeast culture was fed to transition cows resulting in higher milk yields and less weight loss postpartum. Early lactation (3 weeks prepartum to 3 weeks postpartum) appears to be an optimum time to feed yeast culture to stabilize the rumen environment as cows are shifted from dry cows to high-energy diets. Recent reports also suggested increased humoral immunity upon yeast supplementation. 

3.4. Biotin and niacin

Biotin has been associated with the formation of horns and hoofs. White line separation, sole ulcers, heel warts, was reduced when 20 mg of biotin was fed to first lactation Holstein cows after 100 days of supplementation. Besides the improvement in foot health, an increase of 2.3 kilograms of milk per day was reported suggesting the role of biotin in increased glucose synthesis, and improved fiber digestion. Similarly, niacin plays a vital role as a coenzyme in biological reactions, improve energy balance in early lactation cows, control ketosis, and stimulate rumen protozoa when fed at 6-12g/cow/day.

3.5. Dietary Antioxidants

High yielding dairy cows may undergo oxidative stress due to increased levels of pro-oxidants inside the animals’ body, which may decrease their fertility and performance. Supplementing Vitamin E and beta carotene helps in improving dairy cows’ fertility and performance for more sustainable milk production. The interval from calving to first estrus was significantly reduced by supplementing 1000 mg of vitamin E/cow/day before calving and in early lactation. Similarly, beta-carotene in addition to being a precursor of vitamin A, also serves as an antioxidant and increases ovulation rate at the first estrus postpartum.

3.6. Ionophores

Ionophores like monensin and lasolacid fed at 250-400mg/cow/day act against Gram-positive bacteria and protozoa in the rumen due to their cell membrane composition, while typically Gram-negative bacteria are resistant to ionophores which increases the efficiency of rumen fermentation. Ionophores increase the availability of energy to dairy cows by increasing propionate production and reducing acetate, butyrate, lactic acid, the acetate: propionate ratio, and methane production. This in turn reduces blood ketones and NEFAs leading to reduced incidences of metabolic disorders like ketosis, reduced loss of body condition, and increased milk production. 

3.7. Mineral chelates

Chelated minerals have several beneficial effects, such as increased milk yield, quality, and reproductive efficiency in ruminants. The progressive effects of organic minerals on animal performance seem mainly due to higher bioavailability than inorganic sources when supplemented at the same level. In addition, these organic trace minerals have a positive impact on immunity, udder health and somatic cell count by activating T-lymphocytes.

Maintaining and supplementing all these specific feed supplements/additives as an ingredient individually either by the farmer or by a small-scale feed miller is a huge task given the external variables like its quality, price, and storage conditions. Normal mixers used in feed production are not much effective in mixing micronutrients of feed at feed mill which leads to faulty mixing and non-homogeneity of mix, with either excess or less than the recommended required nutrients been delivered that could negatively affect the animal performances. A mixture with a least coefficient of variance (CV) is needed for optimal micronutrients delivery to animals. So, to overcome these challenges, micronutrients must be adequately mixed along with suitable diluent/carrier, for it to be added onto complete feed. Trouw Nutrition India has an advanced state-of-the-art production facility in Hyderabad, that ensures proper mixing of ingredients for a superior quality end product.  Further, with a global experience of over 90 years, Trouw Nutrition has the nutritional expertise to understand local requirements and club it with latest technologies.   

Maxcare is the result of this understanding, a unique combination of feed supplements and additives at the ideal levels required by the dairy animals for optimal transition management and milk production. It is a unique customized solution, that offers standard micro-ingredients according to animal needs at different stages or can be prepared according to specific customer needs or as per different situations in the farm/managemental practices. It’s a convenient, value-added one-stop solution solution for dairy farmers that guarantees assured performance.

4. Conclusion

Transition animals undergo large metabolic changes in energy, fatty acid, and mineral metabolism to support lactation and avoid metabolic disorders. The practical goal of nutritional management during this timeline is to support these metabolic changes. This can be achieved by formulating and including micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, yeast, antioxidants etc., in an optimal way. Maxcare helps to meet all these requirements as a one-stop solution with added benefits of convenience of maintaining a single product instead of many individual raw materials with assured quality, consistency, and performance.

For further information, kindly write to us at or visit our website:  

Dr. Mahesh G.R.

Trouw Nutrition India