Hypocalcemia-Cow-level prevalence and preventive strategies in German dairy herds

J Dairy Sci. 2017 Nov;100(11):9258-9266. doi: 10.3168/jds.2016-12494. Epub 2017 Aug 31.


Hypocalcemia around calving is considered a gateway disease that can lead to health disorders and decreased milk production. The objective of this cross-sectional study was to evaluate the prevalence of clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia 0 to 48 h after calving. Blood samples were drawn from 12 animals of each dairy farm (n = 115) and analyzed for serum calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus concentration. Cows not affected clinically but with a serum calcium concentration below 2.0 mmol/L were characterized as subclinical hypocalcemic animals. Recumbent cows with a serum calcium concentration below 2.0 mmol/L were defined as cows suffering from clinical milk fever. Herds were classified into negative (0 to 2/12), borderline (3 to 5/12), and positive (≥6/12) according to the number of animals with hypocalcemia. Strategies to control hypocalcemia were documented. Prevalence of clinical milk fever was 1.4, 5.7, and 16.1% for second, third, and ≥fourth parity cows, respectively. None of the cows in first lactation were suffering from clinical milk fever. Based on the threshold of 2.0 mmol/L, 5.7, 29.0, 49.4, and 60.4% of cows in first, second, third, and ≥fourth lactation were suffering from subclinical hypocalcemia, respectively. Fourteen, 51, and 50 herds were classified as negative, borderline, and positive, respectively. A positive association was observed between serum calcium and serum phosphorus concentration. Serum calcium and magnesium concentration were negatively associated. Only 50 of 115 farms had a control strategy implemented to avoid hypocalcemia. Most common was the use of oral calcium products (40/115 herds), followed by feeding of anionic salts in the close-up diet (10/115 herds). These results indicate that the prevalence of clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia in German dairy herds was high and that an active control strategy was not implemented on all farms. The negative association between calcium and magnesium warrants further research regarding the physiological regulation of these 2 minerals around parturition.

Keywords: magnesium; milk fever; parturition; subclinical hypocalcemia.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / blood*
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cattle Diseases / prevention & control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Hypocalcemia / epidemiology
  • Hypocalcemia / prevention & control
  • Hypocalcemia / veterinary*
  • Lactation
  • Magnesium / blood*
  • Parity
  • Parturient Paresis / epidemiology*
  • Parturient Paresis / prevention & control
  • Parturition
  • Phosphorus / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence


  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium