The transition period

Within the next few weeks, dairy farmers will start drafting up their springer mobs. This will allow closer monitoring and management of cows that are near calving and entering the transition period (three weeks either side of calving).

The transition period represents a vitally important window in the life of the cow. A whopping 80% of disease costs are incurred in the first four weeks of lactation! These costs are largely determined by the management of the herd through the transition period.

The importance of this period from a disease prevention perspective is well recognised and has been used by farmers for decades, marked by the introduction of magnesium supplementation in the early 1980’s.

More recently as farmers have focussed on the genetic potential of their herd, the goal of the transition period has broadened further to encompass optimal milk production and reproductive performance.

As a result, the transition period has become a major focus for veterinarians, nutritionists and farm managers alike on a global scale.


  1. Ensuring appropriate adaption of the rumen microbial population.
    Many cows are now fed fermentable carbohydrate post calving. The introduction of carbohydrates to cows prior to calving allows adaption prior to the cow being under ‘peak stress’. Both changes in rumen microbes as well as changes to the structure of the rumen wall occur as part of the adaption to carbohydrates in the diet.

  2. Prevention of macro-mineral deficiency.
    Post calving there is a two to four-fold increase in the cows’ requirements for calcium. Major deficiencies leading to metabolic disease can be complex but are commonly associated with either failure to adapt the cow’s metabolism to the increase in requirements for minerals or provide sufficient amounts of minerals.

    It is critical to realise that milk fever is considered a ‘gate-way’ disease and cows with subclinical or clinical milk fever are at far greater risk of infectious disease and suffering life threatening injury while they are down.

  3. Avoidance of excessive mobilisation of fat leading to ketosis.
    Post calving, the cow mobilises fat reserves to meet her energy requirements. Excessive mobilisation and associated weight loss post calving dramatically increases the risk of the cow to subclinical and clinical ketosis.

    Both conditions are associated with other detrimental health conditions such as displaced abomasum, metritis, mastitis and reproductive failure.

  4. Optimising the cow’s immune function.
    Immune function is also very complex. However, in basic terms the availability and internal regulation of important nutrients and minerals involved in the immune function is vital to optimising the cow’s ability to prevent disease and fight infection once introduced.

Low incidence rates of the common health issues plaguing cows is reliant on the immune system functioning properly.

In summary, if transition is managed properly there are significant and profound benefits to be gained for all farm systems.
The good news is, with proactive planning farmers will achieve some very positive results that will translate to improved animal health, better animal welfare and enhanced profitability.

If you have not done so already, now is the time to discuss transition management with your veterinarian.

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