Strategies to gain body condition score in pasture-based dairy cows during late lactation and the far-off nonlactating period and their interaction with close-up dry matter intake

J R Roche, A Heiser, M D Mitchell, M A Crookenden, C G Walker, J K Kay, M Vailati Riboni, J J Loor, S Meier
Journal of Dairy Science 2017, 100 (3): 1720-1738
In pasture-based systems, cows are generally thinner at the end of lactation than cows fed total mixed rations and, as a result, over-feeding of metabolizable energy (ME) during the far-off nonlactating period is a standard management policy to achieve optimum calving body condition score (BCS). An alternative would be to manage cows to gain BCS through late lactation, such that cows ended lactation close to optimum calving BCS and maintenance of BCS through to calving. We sought to quantify the effect of moderate or excessive ME intakes during the far-off nonlactating period in cows that had been managed to gain or maintain BCS through late lactation and whether the far-off management strategy interacted with close-up level of feeding. Effects on milk production and circulating indicators of energy balance and metabolic health in early lactation were evaluated. A herd of 150 cows was randomly assigned to 1 of 2 feeding levels in late lactation to achieve a low and high BCS at the time of dry-off (approximately 4.25 and 5.0 on a 10-point scale). Following dry-off, both herds were managed to achieve a BCS of 5.0 one month before calving; this involved controlled feeding (i.e., maintenance) and over-feeding of ME during the far-off dry period. Within each far-off feeding-level treatment, cows were offered 65, 90, or 120% of their pre-calving ME requirements for 3 wk pre-calving in a 2 × 3 factorial arrangement (i.e., 25 cows/treatment). Body weight and BCS were measured weekly before and after calving, and milk production was measured weekly until wk 7 postcalving. Blood samples were collected weekly for 4 wk pre-calving and 5 wk postcalving, and on d 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 relative to calving, and analyzed for indicators of energy balance (e.g., blood fatty acids, β-hydroxybutyrate), calcium status, and inflammatory state. No interaction was observed between far-off and close-up feeding levels. Over-feeding of ME to low BCS cows during the far-off nonlactating period reduced blood fatty acid and β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations in early lactation, and increased blood albumin to globulin ratio compared with cows that were dried off close to recommended calving BCS and control-fed during the far-off dry period. Cows consuming 65% of their ME requirements during the close-up period had lower fatty acids and β-hydroxybutyrate in early lactation, but produced less milk, particularly during the first 21 d of lactation, had more than 3-fold greater concentration of haptoglobin immediately postcalving, and had a lower blood cholesterol concentration and albumin to globulin ratio, when compared with cows offered 90 or 120% of their ME requirements. Collectively, these measurements indicate that a severe restriction (<70% of ME requirements) during the close-up nonlactating period increases the risk of disease in early lactation and reduces milk production. In summary, far-off over-feeding of ME to cows that needed to gain BCS did not influence peripartum metabolic health in grazing dairy cows, but restricting cows below 70% ME requirements during the close-up transition period resulted in a blood profile indicative of greater inflammation.

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