Symposium review: Nutrition strategies for improved health, production, and fertility during the transition period

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Jun;103(6):5684-5693. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-17271. Epub 2020 Jan 31.


Dairy cow nutritional programs are a major determinant of the profitability of dairy farms. Despite this, the sustainability of the dairy enterprise is beyond just cow nutrition. For almost 50 yr, the NC-2042 project (Management Systems to Improve the Economic and Environmental Sustainability of Dairy Enterprises) has been addressing most of these components as individual research units and in integrated ways. This review has the objective to report the body of research developed by members of the group in connection with the existing literature on dietary formulation and feeding management during the dry period, peripartal period, and early postpartum (fresh) period. Peak disease incidence (shortly after parturition) corresponds with the time of greatest negative energy balance (NEB), the peak in blood concentrations of nonesterified fatty acids, and the greatest acceleration of milk yield. Decreased fertility in the face of increasing milk production may be attributable to greater severity of postpartal NEB resulting from inadequate transition management or increased rates of disease. The depth and duration of NEB is highly related to dry matter intake. Periparturient diseases can result from adverse ruminal conditions caused by excessive grain in the precalving or fresh cow diet, perhaps aggravated by overcrowding, heat stress, or other stressors. Others have also implicated inflammatory responses in alterations of metabolism, occurrence of health problems, and impaired reproduction. Providing controlled-energy and negative dietary cation-anion difference diets prepartum may improve dairy cow performance during the transition period. A major area of concern in the fresh cow period is a sudden increase in dietary energy density leading to subacute ruminal acidosis, which can decrease dry matter intake and digestibility of nutrients. Adequate physical form of the diet, derived from either forage neutral detergent fiber content or a mixing strategy of different ingredients in a total mixed ration, must be present to stimulate ruminal activity and chewing behavior. In conclusion, formulation and delivery of appropriate diets that limit total energy intake to requirements but also provide proper intakes of all other nutrients (including the most limiting amino acids Met and Lys) before calving can help lessen the extent of NEB after calving. Effects of such diets on indicators of metabolic health are generally positive, suggesting the potential to lessen effects of periparturient disease on fertility.

Keywords: amino acid; dietary cation-anion difference; fertility; negative energy balance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry*
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Animals
  • Cattle / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Lactation / physiology*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Pregnancy