Nutrition Plus Blog

Negative DCAD Is an Important Part of a Prepartum Nutrition Plan

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Did you know that up to 35% of transition cows are affected by disease within the first three weeks of lactation? It’s a sobering fact—and it’s why producers and nutritionists need a proven prepartum nutrition plan.

The Skinny

What’s the secret to getting prepartum nutrition right?

  • Specialized prepartum diets are important.
  • Not all cows need the same prepartum diet.
  • Research is ongoing. In the meantime, using a proven anionic supplement, like SoyChlor, is the best bet.

Want to learn more about how negative DCAD, prepartum nutrition and SoyChlor can help cows transition successfully? Learn more in our newsletter. Sign up here.

The Details

All producers and nutritionists want healthy maternity pens. Yet we know the stresses of prepartum, transition and calving place tremendous demands on cows’ bodies.

On average, 30 to 35% of transition cows are affected by disease within the first three weeks of lactation (Ribeiro et al. 2016). And if cows lose one unit or more of body condition from calving to 65 days in milk they are much less likely to become pregnant at first service (Santos et al. 2009 Anim. Reprod. Sci.).

Recently, researchers set out to better define the nutritional needs of prepartum cows, for the purposes of milk production, reproduction and cow health.

Simple steps to improve nutrition during transition

José Santos, professor of animal sciences at the University of Florida, outlined the research results and presented guidelines for prepartum nutrition at the Florida Dairy Production Conference.

  • All cows should receive a specialized prepartum diet during the last 21 days before calving.
  • Prepartum cows need approximately 17 Mcal of net energy for lactation/day (a diet with 1.45 Mcal/kg or 0.66 Mcal/lb) to support maintenance, fetal growth and some tissue deposition.
  • Producers and nutritionists should supplement rations with rumen-protected choline pre- and early postpartum (at least 13 grams of choline ion).
  • In the last 21 days of gestation, prepartum nulliparous cows are expected to eat approximately 24 lbs of dry matter (DM) daily, whereas multiparous cows typically average 27.5 lbs of DM daily.

Deeper dive

Dr. Santos also provided more specific and technical information on prepartum nutrition.

  • Formulate prepartum diets with a DCAD of about -100 mEq/kg for parous cows. Research has not yet determined the level of DCAD needed for nulliparous cows or if they benefit from acidogenic diets.
  • In prepartum diets, use:
    • 70 to 75% forage
    • 45 to 50% NDF
    • 15 to 18% starch
    • 25 to 30% NFC
    • 3% fatty acids
  • While the recommendation for metabolizable protein (MP) has been 1,100 to 1,300 grams/day for all close-up cows, a new meta-analysis by Husnain and Santos (2019) shows the protein needs of parous and nulliparous cows differ.
    • Nulliparous cows need at least 1,100 grams/day (2.4 lbs/day) of MP, which can be achieved with 14 to 15% crude protein in the diet.
    • Parous cows only need 800 to 900 g/day (2 lbs/day) of MP, which can be achieved with 12 to 13% CP.

Additional tips

  • In early lactation, supplement fatty acids to improve fertility at 1 to 1.5% diet DM, such that the final diet contains no more than 3 to 4% total fatty acids.
  • Effects will differ with the source of fatty acid fed. Fat sources rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids seem to be the most bioactive to improve fertility, but they might also increase the risk of milk fat depression.
  • Provide sufficient forage NDF to avoid issues with milk fat depression and maintain rumen health.

To learn more about using SoyChlor, a proven negative DCAD supplement, please visit with your Dairy Nutrition Plus representative or get in touch with us.


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The above article was originally published in an earlier issue of the Dairy Nutrition Plus newsletter; find it here.

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