Managing the grazing dairy cow through the transition period: A review

J. K. Kay, J. J. Loor, A. Heiser, J. McGowan, J. R. Roche

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The transition period of the dairy cow generally refers to the last three weeks of gestation and the first three weeks of lactation. During this period, the dairy cow faces numerous physiological challenges, requiring both homeostatic and homeorhetic changes to support the demands of lactation. Management strategies to achieve a successful transition have developed over many decades. Historically, these strategies focussed on achieving high energy intakes pre-calving in an attempt to improve post-calving metabolism; however, more recent research has indicated that this approach may not be appropriate. Physiological and molecular data have indicated that imposing a slight negative energy balance (EBAL) pre-calving can improve post-calving EBAL, metabolic health indices and milk production. It was hypothesised that the challenges of the transition period would be less in a grazing system than in an intensive confinement system, due to the lower milk production and the difference in population density and, therefore, pathogen exposure. However, the molecular and immunological responses to the change of state are similar in magnitude in a moderate-yielding pasture-fed cow and in a high-yielding cow fed a total mixed ration. The collective data point to a peripartum immunosuppression, which is affected by body condition score and feeding level. This review will outline the literature and provide an assessment of the most recent transition cow management for grazing dairy cows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)936-942
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2015


  • immune dysfunction
  • nutrition
  • pasture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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