March 04, 2024

Mineral supplementation boosts cow comfort and milk production

From dry-off to freshening

Curt Vlietstra

DULUTH, Ga. — Managing dry cows through the fresh period pays dividends down the line.

“How the cow moves through the transition period influences her production, health, ability to become pregnant again and her ability to stay in the herd,” said Curt Vlietstra, professional services veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim.

From dry-off to freshening, mineral supplementation can play a pivotal role in keeping cows healthy, comfortable and productive.

At Dry-Off

Cow comfort is important at all times, but especially at dry-off.

“We know that many animals, especially our high producers, are going to experience discomfort at dry-off,” Vlietstra said.

“Immediately after dry-off, they’re going to have engorged udders and leak milk — resulting in less rest time, a higher risk of mastitis infections and more discomfort.”

Historically, producers have reduced milk production before dry-off — and reduced the impending discomfort — in a few different ways.

They can move animals to a separate pen and feed a lower-energy diet, or they can cut back on the number of milkings just before dry-off.

Another option, which is relatively new to the dairy industry, is to provide cows with an oral mineral supplement, Bovikalc Dry, designed to reduce milk production and udder pressure.

This approach can help maintain cow comfort and well-being at dry-off without any additional management changes.

“The more quickly and comfortably the cow stops producing milk, the sooner she can get rest and a healthy start toward the next lactation,” Vlietstra said.

In fact, new research shows cows that receive the supplement spend 33 more minutes lying down the day after dry-off.

And on average, cows spend up to 17 more minutes per day lying down during the first two weeks after dry-off.

At Freshening

Once cows freshen, calcium becomes a priority.

“There are a number of calcium mineral supplements available to help cows maintain calcium. However, not all supplements are created equal, so it’s important to pay attention to what type and the amount of calcium we’re giving a cow,” Vlietstra said.

Vlietstra encourages producers to read through the ingredients and choose a bolus containing calcium chloride and calcium sulfate.

Both forms of calcium are considered acidogenic, which will help fresh cows maintain adequate blood calcium levels.

The calcium chloride will be rapidly absorbed, while the calcium sulfate will provide sustained release of calcium during the post-calving period.

To determine the success of your calcium supplementation program, a veterinarian can help retrieve blood samples of recently fresh cows to determine calcium concentrations.

“Producers should also look for boluses with a fat coating,” Vlietstra said.

A fat coating makes it easier for animals to swallow and provides protection from the calcium chloride, which can naturally be uncomfortable to swallow due to its acidic properties.

Start With A Veterinarian

Dry-off and freshening are both crucial points in a cow’s production cycle. Mineral supplements paired with good management practices can ease the transition and keep cows at their best.

“If you’re reevaluating your dry-off and freshening protocols, pull in your veterinarian,” Vlietstra said. “They know your herd best and can offer tailored recommendations for your animals.”