02 Aug

Dairy Cattle Nutrition during the Transition Period

In an insightful discussion, Dr. Luciano Caixeta shared his expertise with NutriNews International, shedding light on the crucial role of […]

Dairy Cattle Nutrition during the Transition Period

In an insightful discussion, Dr. Luciano Caixeta shared his expertise with NutriNews International, shedding light on the crucial role of nutrition during the transition period in dairy cattle. Dr. Caixeta emphasized the importance of appropriate nutrition and efficient management in minimizing metabolic disorders and other health challenges during this critical phase, leading to improved dairy cow health and productivity.

nutriNews International: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a new episode of our series of technical interviews. My name is Alvaro Guzman and I am part of the editorial staff at nutriNews International. Today I want to welcome our guest, Dr. Luciano Caixeta, who is an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Caixeta, it is a pleasure to have you here with us.

Dr. Luciano Caixeta: Thanks, Alvaro. It’s a pleasure to be here.

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nutriNews International: Before we start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and give us a brief overview of your academic background and your current role at the university?

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Dr. Caixeta: Yeah, sure. It is always good to start with a brief introduction. I am from Brazil. I grew up in a family with many veterinarians. Hence, I grew up working and shadowing my dad on a beef cattle practice. During my veterinary degree in Brazil I did a lot of nutritional consulting and reproductive work in beef cows. Afterwards, in my last year of vet school, I had a chance to to do an externship in the US.  It was a great opportunity to learn more about veterinary medicine in the US and about the cattle industry here. I went to Cornell University, where I got to do some work on metritis with Dr. Robert Gilbert for six months. I then went back home, graduated, and came back. I started working with lameness and then transitioned into bacteriophages, mastitis, and all sorts of different areas. After a year of this type of work, I decided that I needed more clinical training. Therefore, I applied and was accepted for a residency also at Cornell. At the end of residency, I enrolled in a Ph. D program. I got both my residency and PhD training at Cornell.  Afterwards I moved to Colorado where I taught for two years as a clinical instructor in dairy production medicine at Colorado State University. Finally, six years ago I moved here to the University Minnesota, because I wanted to do more research.  As I wanted to focus on certain aspects and pathologies that I had faced during my clinical experience. Aiming to do more research to help prevent some of this ongoing problems.

nutrinews International: That’s quite a rich background with an interesting mix of clinical experience and research. I think that’s very valuable. Thank you for giving us that brief summary of your career path.

Let’s start with today’s topic. I would like to talk about the transition period in dairy cows and about the importance of nutrition and nutritional management during this period. So, to start off, I would like to ask you what is the primary goal of dairy cow nutrition during the transition period?

Dr. Caixeta: In my opinion,and based a little bit on my experience and background I would start of by mentioning the following. I started looking into the transition period because when I worked as a clinician, most of my work revolved around treating cows that became ill or had problems during this period. Therefore, I realized that there was a huge opportunity for us to do work and improve cattle health and welfare during this period. I shortly realized that we could help prevent health problems associated with transition, through adequate nutrition. Making it a key component when working with transition cows.

So basically, there are there are few things to look out for and if you ask different people they will probably give you different answers about the key aspects. Thinking about management overall, it is definitely necessary to decrease stress in these animals. When I talk about stress, this includes heat abatement, overcrowding, and many  other factors, but it also refers to the the diet those animals consume. Hence, we don’t want to be changing diets constantly or give the animals a diet that’s too high on energy or too different for their consumption. Although I’m not a person who designs or formulates many diets, I would say that the main goal is to provide the energy, and all the nutrients that the cow requires for the growth of the fetus and the start of lactogenesis but we don’t want to offer too much. Therefore, we want to offer them whatever’s required, but not overfeed them. As we don’t want them to start getting too heavy, and too fat, which will lead to metabolic disorders and maladaptations during postpartum.  So, providing them whatever is needed for them to maintain and have a smooth dry cow period until they calve again. Maybe some people are expecting a specific recommendation or a specific additive that can be used to maintain adequate animal health and nutrition during this period, but I think the answer to this question is actually more simple. We must feed them what they need while not overfeeding them and we must also be careful to not starve them. That way, if we help them to transition smoothly they will give us the best results.

nutriNews International: Okay, that sounds good. Among these same lines, when we’re talking about feeding them what they need,and not over feeding them, why is it important to consider body condition scores? What kind of parameters do you need to look at during this time? Or what should we aim for?

Dr. Caixeta: The body condition score is certainly one of the easiest, and cheapest tools we can use. You can train a person to make this assessment and it does not require any special equipment. Meanwhile this assessment gives us a lot of information. As a benchmark for people that are listening, what we’re looking for is somewhere between 3 and 3.25 on a scale from 1 to 5. This is the target score that we aim for here in the US, especially with high producing cattle. Therefore, we are looking at a cow that still has some condition on her, but she’s definitely not overly fat. There’s plenty of epidemiological studies, with large data sets, showing that those cows with higher body condition scores, let’s say above 3.5, experience a greater reduction in dry matter intake than those cows that are not as fat. Dry matter intake is a huge problem for those cows postpartum. Leading to metabolic diseases due to the fact that they’re not eating, and start mobilizing a body fat, ketones and this results in ketosis. As well as hypocalcemia due to the lack of adequate dry matter intake and their productive demands.

Thus, by having cows that are not too fat, we can mitigate this big reduction in DMI to a certain extent.When we are looking at body condition score, cows with higher scores will experience a reduction of dry matter intake of more than half a point. While those cows that have a more controlled of moderate condition will not have those big reductions in DMI. Therefore those cows with high BCS and a greater DMI reduction tend to have greater fat mobilization and more metabolic issues as a result. What we have seen in these cows is a decrease milk production due to their greater loss of body condition, as well as a reduction in their reproductive performance and overall health. Affecting their capacity to stay in the herd. A lot of them are leaving the herd because this drop in BCS leads to a series of other problems that result in those cows being removed from the herd. To wrap it up, if you look at the transition period the way I see it, which goes from dry off to the end of the cow’s voluntary waiting period, one could say the following. If we have cows drying off at 3.25 on average, they will all lose body condition score up until their peak production. If these cows lose no more than half a point, they will usually do very well. That’s why we’re looking for that target of 3.25, and at peak production we would expect something around 2.75. Those are the parameters that we are trying to aim for….

Watch the full interview:

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