Effects of precalving body condition score and prepartum feeding level on production, reproduction, and health parameters in pasture-based transition dairy cows

J. R. Roche, S. Meier, A. Heiser, M. D. Mitchell, C. G. Walker, M. A. Crookenden, M. Vailati Riboni, J. J. Loor, J. K. Kay

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Precalving feeding level alters postcalving energy balance, dry matter intake, the liver and adipose tissue transcriptome, hepatic lipidosis, and the risk of metabolic diseases in both high-production cows consuming total mixed rations and moderate-production cows grazing pasture. We hypothesized that the reported benefits of a controlled restriction before calving are dependent on precalving body condition score (BCS): low BCS animals would not benefit from reduced feeding levels precalving, but high BCS cows would have metabolic and immunomodulatory profiles indicative of an improved health status. One hundred sixty-one days before calving, 150 cows were allocated randomly to 1 of 6 treatment groups (n. =. 25) in a 2. ×. 3 factorial arrangement: 2 precalving BCS categories (4.0 and 5.0; based on a 10-point scale: BCS4 and BCS5, respectively) and 3 levels of energy intake during the 3 wk preceding calving (75, 100, and 125% of estimated requirements). Cows in the BCS4 and BCS5 groups were managed through late lactation to ensure that target calving BCS was achieved at dry off. Cows were then fed to maintain this BCS target until 3 wk before expected calving date, at which point they were managed within their allotted precalving energy intake treatments by offering different allowances of fresh pasture/cow per day. Milk production, body weight, and BCS were measured weekly; blood was sampled weekly before and after calving and on d 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 relative to calving. Aspirated plasma was assayed for nonesterified fatty acids, β-hydroxybutyrate, total protein, albumin, cholesterol, haptoglobin, IL-1β, IL-6, total antioxidant capacity, and reactive oxygen species. Liver was sampled wk 1, 2, and 4 postcalving for triacylglycerol analysis. Results confirm that precalving BCS and precalving feeding level have both independent and interdependent effects on production and health characteristics of transition dairy cows. Irrespective of precalving BCS, a controlled restriction precalving reduced the net release of nonesterified fatty acids from adipose tissue postpartum and increased plasma calcium concentrations, reducing the risk of milk fever. Fatter cows produced more milk but lost more BCS postcalving and had greater blood β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations and increased hepatic lipidosis. In comparison, after calving, indicators of reduced immune competence were accentuated in BCS4 cows subjected to a feed restriction before calving, probably increasing the risk of infectious diseases. It would appear from these results that optimally conditioned cows will benefit from a short-term (2-3 wk) controlled feed restriction (75-90% of requirements), whereas cows in less than optimal condition should be fed to requirements before calving.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number73843
Pages (from-to)7164-7182
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Health
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Transition cow
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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