by Robert Hamilton, Technical Sales Manager, Kemin Animal Health & Nutrition EMENA,


Calving is the most difficult and challenging phase in the life of the cow as it is where the animal's body starts to prepare for the next lactation.

Without adequate nutrition and management at this stage, its health will deteriorate which will in turn compromise profitability.

Managing ruminant health often relies on treating health issues once they occur.

However, we must focus more on prevention by taking care of the daily nutrition, especially during the pre-calving and post-calving phases. Formulating for optimal health will prepare the cow for a smoother calving and for an improved lactation after calving.

By formulating for ruminant health, good daily performance will be achieved'

At Kemin, we work together with customers to formulate for ruminant health, based on their expertise and scientifically proven nutritional solutions. We believe good animal health is the cornerstone of profitable dairy farming. In designing a ruminant health program, we focus on both the pre-calving and post-calving phases.

A critical time

A critical time in the dry period is the last three weeks before calving, also known as the 'close-up' period.

During this time, the cow is preparing to start the next lactation. Without adequate nutrition and management, cows can calve and fade quickly, losing potential income. The 'close-up' dry period needs to be considered a high attention area that sets the stage for how well the cow will perform after calving.

We all know that dry cows should be moved to the 'close-up pen' before their due date, but where does this recommendation come from? For lactational success, the cow needs to mobilise calcium from her bones during this phase, which can take 10 to 15 days. Without adequate time for lactation preparation, milk fever can become a major issue.

Adapting the diet during the 'close-up' period, not only allows time for the cow to mobilise calcium, but also for the rumen to adapt to forage changes and a higher energy diet, which are essential for nutrient absorption and preventing post-calving issues.

Pre-Calving - The biggest concern today

The concern today is not only clinical diseases and associated treatment costs but more importantly, the 'subclinical metabolic disorders' which can be extremely detrimental.

Metabolic disorder, that is subclinical hypocalcemia (SCH), is considered as 'a gateway disease' because it is associated with increased risk of periparturient problems that have long-term consequences for production, reproduction and survival.

Research findings (Reinhardt et al 2011) clearly indicate that cows are more susceptible to hypocalcemia as the lactation number increases.

Subclinical hypocalcemia beyond milk fever

In 2014, Martinez studied the impact of subclinical hypocalcemia beyond milk fever. They induced SCH through five percent ethylene glycol tetra acetic acid (intravenous infusion) treatment for 24 hours.

They reported that SCH significantly (*P<0.01) reduced dry matter intake, increased non esterified fatty acids (NEFA) concentration, reduced rumen contractions and decreases neutrophil functions as compared to normocalcemic cows.

Martinez et al (2012) also studied the effect of normocalcemia/SCH and its effects on metritis incidences when a cow is in a high-risk situation. A high-risk situation was described as a cow being diagnosed with dystocia, twins, still born or retained foetal membranes (RFM).

Normocalcemic cows in a high-risk situation showed 20 percent incidences of metritis, whereas subclinical hypocalcemic cows showed 77.8 percent incidences of metritis in the similar high-risk situation.

Formulating pre-calving cow health

A meta-analysis consisting of 42 randomised trials (Santosh et al, 2019) suggested that cows with cationic diets (diets having a positive charge due to higher concentration of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) are more likely to suffer increased incidences of milk fever or hypocalcemia. Cationic diets are one of the strong triggers of subclinical hypocalcemia during the 'close-up' dry cow period.

Anionic diets (diets having a negative charge due to higher concentration of chloride, sulfur and phosphorus) promote a more acidic metabolic state (lower blood pH) which is associated with reduced incidences of milk fever.

Is your cows diet cationic or anionic?

It is likely that most diets are cationic in nature, based on typical dietary ingredients used in the 'close-up' period. One of the main reasons for this, is these ingredients are fundamentally cationic.

Turning your cows' diets from cationic to anionic can create optimal acidification in the cows blood. These acidogenic diets work minimise hypocalcemia by:

Changing the animals blood pH towards a slightly acidic condition, due to increasing the concentration of chloride ions

Mobilising more calcium from the bones to buffer the acid in the bloodstream

Achieving maximum calcium supply at the time of calving

Reducing incidences of hypocalcemia which occur due to calcium deficiency

Kemin offers on-site pH measurement kits for monitoring urinary pH in cows, which is critical for analysing potential pitfalls after calving, as well as dietary testing facilities in our laboratory to check the cation status. This way we can propose the most refined application of hypocalcemia control solutions and technologies.

Kemin's solution is in formulating pre-calving cows health called NutriCABTM which contains incapsulated calcium chloride.

NutriCAB comes with the highest concentration (>80 percent) of calcium chloride in encapsulated form masks the bitterness of anionic salt and prevents intake issues, controlling hygroscopicity during application and storage, also ensuring skin safety when handling and improves the metabolic health for better animal performance.

Performance under field condition

Compromised immunity and decreased muscle tone due to calcium deficiency can be associated with increased incidences of retained foetal membranes in dairy cows.

Trials confirm that with good ruminant health programs for pre-calving cows (last 21 days before calving), whereby diets were made acidogenic with NutriCAB, the incidence of retained foetal membranes reduced from 28.7 to 5.4 percent (average of four farms)

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