Transition cows


Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 2.2.4

Cows that are transitioning from gestation to lactation have increased nutrient demands that must be met. Inadequate nutrition during this period can lead to both metabolic and infectious diseases, (e.g., ketosis, fatty liver, milk fever). These health issues impact negatively on animal welfare, reduce milk production, reduce reproductive performance, and shorten the animal’s life expectancy.


Cattle must receive a diet that is adequate for maintaining health and vigor.


  1. test nutrient content of feed ingredients used
  2. ensure all rations have been balanced
  3. ‘dense up’ or concentrate the ration so that a lower Dry Matter Intake (DMI) of a high quality, palatable feed is possible, but avoid feeding large amounts of concentrates at one time, to lessen changes in rumen pH
  4. monitor DMI, rumen fill, body condition score and rectal temperature of transition cows
  5. reduce incidence of milk fever by using forage that is low in potassium or by feeding anions to induce mild acidosis in close-up dry cows
  6. increase concentrate gradually. Concentrate should be increased gradually (0.5 to 0.7kg per head per day) according to appetite
  7. utilize feed additives, propylene glycol and rumen-protected choline, to prevent ketosis and fatty liver disease. Feeding additional grain or using dietary supplements of fat are not successful strategies for preventing fatty liver disease
  8. ensure cows are neither extremely thin nor over-conditioned. The cow in early lactation will lose BCS. This should not be too rapid and should not exceed a loss of greater than 1 point over the first 120 days in milk (see Appendix E – Body Condition Scoring Chart).