One of the most demanding times in the life of a dairy cow is the period three weeks before and after calving. This transition increases the cow’s risk for illness and metabolic disorders, which can result in severe productivity losses.1

“Transition cows are often exposed to stressors such as pen movements, ration changes or environmental stress,” notes Angel Aguilar, Ph.D., Dipl. ACAN, Technical Services Manager, Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “These stressors can take a toll and make cows more likely to develop mastitis, ketosis or metritis — which are some of the costliest diseases of dairy cattle today.”

For example, University of Florida research showed heat stress during late gestation caused an 11 lb. decrease in peak milk production in the subsequent lactation of a cow. What’s more, growth and future milk production of the calves still in-utero can be negatively affected by this same heat stress.1

“Optimizing nutrition and management during this period can save producers money in lost milk production, reproduction, calf performance and reduced treatment costs,” Dr. Aguilar says. “It’s generally accepted that a good dry cow program can result in an additional 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. of milk in the next lactation alone. Simply put: It pays to pay attention to transition cows.”

One of the reasons the transition period is such a precarious time is that a severe negative energy balance can easily occur, largely due to a decline in dry matter intake (DMI) as calving approaches. In fact, DMI can decrease by 30 percent in the seven to 10-day period before calving. Reducing the decline in DMI and reducing stress during the transition period can result in big returns for dairies.

Management and ration changes, like adding a probiotic to close-up and fresh cow diets, can help the cows cope with the stress during transition.

Probiotics are an easy, cost-effective way to support the immune system of cattle against everyday natural challenges, Dr. Aguilar notes.

The right probiotic can initiate an active process of stimulating microflora — the dynamic and robust bacterial communities in the lower intestinal tract — to enhance lower gut health. The lower gut signals to the rest of the body, which stimulates the innate immune system.

One probiotic, Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079, has been proven to positively activate the immune system of cattle during times of stress. In a study, S. c. boulardii CNCM I-1079 supported higher peak milk and resulted in fewer health events for transition cows. In 187 Holstein cows, those receiving the probiotic produced 4.87 pounds more peak milk per cow when compared to controls.

Over the entire lactation, cows fed S. c. boulardii CNCM I-1079 would produce 1,193 pounds more milk compared to controls. On top of that, the probiotic saved $2,609 in treatment costs and milk lost due to transition problems, Dr. Aguilar notes.

Treating illness after it occurs is almost always more expensive,” he says. “Plus, producers can never recover the production losses that arise when an animal must use its energy to fight off sickness — rather than on performance. Proactively supporting animal health improves overall well-being and ensures cows are better prepared to fight off inevitable disease challenges. When illness does strike, robust animal health minimizes disease risks, gets cows back into production and helps them reach a high level of peak milk production.”