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  • Reduced weight loss post-calving

    Weight loss post-calving is almost inevitable in dairy cows. There is an ‘energy gap’, when feed intake can’t provide the energy required by milk yield after calving. This period of negative energy balance (NEB) lasts for at least 50 days after calving (Roche et al., 2009; Buttchereit et al., 2010). To meet the energy demands of milk production, cows must mobilise (break down) body tissue. Cows mainly use adipose tissue (fat), which supplies fatty acids (NEFA) and glycerol, as an energy source. In addition, muscle is mobilised for the first 2-3 weeks after calving; this provides amino acids, which can also be used for energy. Mobilising body tissue causes the weight loss seen post-calving.

    We can assess how much body tissue is being mobilised in a variety of ways. Levels of NEFA in blood measure the degree of fat mobilisation, and levels of beta-hydroxy butyrate (BHB) in blood (or milk) measure to what degree NEFA are metabolised to ketone bodies, which are also used by the cow as an energy source. Measuring NEFA and/or BHB gives an indication of the cow’s metabolic status at the time of sampling. Several studies have correlated high levels of NEFA and BHB with increased risks of metabolic disorders, poor fertility and lower milk yield (Ospina et al., 2010a and b; Suthar et al., 2010; Raboisson et al., 2014).

    Milk recording data (milk fat, protein, fat:protein, as well as more recently, fatty acids and MIR analysis) can be used to measure energy status of individual cows and/or the whole herd to review performance in the recent past.

    Measuring body condition score (BCS) change in the weeks after calving demonstrates how much body tissue has been mobilised. Increased BCS loss post-calving is associated with poorer fertility (Butler and Smith, 1989; Roche et al., 2007); thinner cows (including as a result of increased BCS loss post-calving) have a higher risk of lameness (Bicalho et al., 2009; Randall et al., 2015) – see links on fertility and lameness. It is recommended that BCS loss in the 2 months after calving is limited to a maximum of 0.5 units.

    Glycal Forte® has been shown to reduce BCS loss post-calving in a trial carried out on 90 cows in a high-yielding (>10,000 litres) UK dairy herd:

    Cows in the Glycal Forte® group lost significantly less BCS in the 120 days after calving than the control group (P = 0.030). In addition, farmers who have fed Glycal Forte® to their close-up dry and fresh cows typically comment that they see less weight loss after calving. Several commercial farm studies have shown an improvement in fresh cow energy status when cows are fed Glycal Forte®. 

    How does Glycal Forte® reduce BCS and weight loss after calving? Glycal Forte® has a positive effect on energy balance in several ways.

    Firstly, via its effect on rumen pH. Dairy cows undergo a period of rumen adaptation after moving from a less energy dense dry cow ration to a more energy dense milking ration. It can take up to 6 weeks for the rumen to adapt and reach maximum ability to absorb volatile fatty acids, which are the products of rumen fermentation. Therefore, in the same way that NEB is almost inevitable in dairy cows, so for about a month after calving, as these acid levels build up in the rumen, cows are inevitably at high risk of low rumen pH or sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) (Humer et al., 2018). There are four effects of low rumen pH on the cow’s energy balance; these are:

    1. Reduced dry matter intakes (Plaizier et al., 2008).
    2. Reduced fibre rumen degradability, by up to 20% (Djikstra et al., 2012).
    3. Increased rumen cellulolytic bacteria maintenance energy (Russel and Wilson, 1996).
    4. Energy cost of the inflammatory state set up by leakage of endotoxin across low pH damaged rumen epithelium (Horst et al., 2019).

    The effect of Glycal Forte® on rumen pH post-calving was also demonstrated in the trial referred to above:

    In addition to the effects of rumen pH on energy status, Glycal Forte® supplies bypass glycerol, from the proportion of the complex, which dissociates in the abomasum. Glycerol released in the abomasum is used metabolically more efficiently than glycerol released in or delivered to the rumen (Piantoni and Allen, 2015).



    Bicalho, R.C., Machado, V.S. and Caixeta, L.S. 2009. Lameness in dairy cattle: A debilitating disease or a disease of debilitated cattle? A cross-sectional study of lameness prevalence and thickness of the digital cushion. Journal of Dairy Science, 92, pp. 3175-3184.
    Butler, W.R. and Smith, R.D. 1989. Interrelationships between energy balance and postpartum reproductive function in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 72, pp. 767-783.
    Buttchereit, N., Stamer, E., Junge, W. and Thaller, G. 2010. Evaluation of five lactation curve models fitted for fat:protein ratio of milk and daily energy balance. Journal of Dairy Science, 93, pp. 1702-1712.
    Dijkstra, J., Ellis, J.L., Kebreab, E., Strathe, A.B., López, S., France, J. and Bannink, A. 2012. Ruminal pH regulation and nutritional consequences of low pH. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 172, pp. 22-33.
    Horst, E.A., Mayorga, E.J., Rodriguez-Jimenez, S., Abeyta, M.A., Goetz, B.M., Carta, S., Al-Qaisi, M., Kvidera, S.K. and Baumgard, L.H. 2019. Causes and metabolic consequences of Leaky Gut. In: 2019 Cornell Nutrition Conference Proceedings.
    Humer, E., Petri, R.M., Aschenbach, J.R., Bradford, B.J., Penner, G.B., Tafaj, M., Südekum, K.-H., and Zebeli, Q. 2018. Invited review: Practical feeding management recommendations to mitigate the risk of subacute ruminal acidosis in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 101, pp. 872-888.
    Manning, J. and Husband, J. Transition cows and ketosis. [Online]. Available from: https://projectblue.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/Beef%20&%20Lamb/CHAWG/From%202014/Transition-cows-100714.pdf [Accessed 24 August 2020].
    Ospina, P.A., Nydam, D.V., Stokol, T. and Overton, T.R. 2010a. Evaluation of nonesterified fatty acids and β-hydroxybutyrate in transition dairy cattle in the northeastern United States: Critical thresholds for prediction of clinical diseases. Journal of Dairy Science, 93, pp. 546-554.
    Ospina, P.A., Nydam, D.V., Stokol, T. and Overton, T.R. 2010b. Associations of elevated nonesterified fatty acids and β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations with early lactation reproductive performance and milk production in transition dairy cattle in the northeastern United States. Journal of Dairy Science, 93, pp. 1596-1603.
    Piantoni, P. and Allen, M.S. 2015. Evaluation of propylene glycol and glycerol infusions as treatments for ketosis in dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 98, pp. 5429-5439.
    Plaizier, J.C., Krause, D.O., Gozho, G.N. and McBride, B.W. 2008. Subacute ruminal acidosis in dairy cows: The physiological causes, incidence and consequences. The Veterinary Journal, 176, pp. 21-31.
    Raboisson, D., Mounié, M. and Maigné, E. 2014. Diseases, reproductive performance, and changes in milk production associated with subclinical ketosis in dairy cows: A meta-analysis and review. Journal of Dairy Science, 97, pp. 7547-7563.
    Randall, L.V., Green, M.J., Chagunda, M.G.G., Mason, C., Archer, S.C., Green, L.E. and Huxley, J.N. 2015. Low body condition predisposes cattle to lameness: An 8-year study of one dairy herd. Journal of Dairy Science, 98, pp. 3766-3777.
    Roche, J.R., Macdonald, K.A., Burke, C.R., Lee, J.M. and Berry, D.P. 2007. Associations among body condition score, body weight, and reproductive performance in seasonal-calving dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 90, pp. 376-391.
    Roche, J.R., Friggens, N.C., Kay, J.K., Fisher, M.W., Stafford, K.J. and Berry, D.P. 2009. Invited review: Body condition score and its association with dairy cow productivity, health, and welfare. Journal of Dairy Science, 92, pp. 5769-5801.
    Russell, J.B. and Wilson, D.B. 1996. Why Are ruminal cellulolytic bacteria unable to digest cellulose at low pH? Journal of Dairy Science, 79, pp. 1503-1509.
    Suthar, V.S., Canelas-Raposo, J., Deniz, A. and Heuwieser, W. 2013. Prevalence of subclinical ketosis and relationships with postpartum diseases in European dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 96, pp. 2925-2938.