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Strong immune system is the foundation of a profitable lactation

Making sure cows have a strong immune system, especially at transition, is the best way to reduce metabolic diseases draining your profits, according to Zinpro.

Zinpro research nutritionist Dr Huw McConochie explains a proactive approach to reducing the incidence of metabolic diseases will have a significant impact on dairy cow performance and productivity.


He says: “Milk production is drastically reduced if cows have to use energy reserves to fight off infections. By strengthening cows’ defences and reducing immune system challenges, you can help reduce the incidence of metritis, retained foetal membranes, mastitis and lameness, among others.


“Investment in the immune system will be greatly exceeded by improved performance, reduced treatment costs and better profitability.”

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Dr McConochie says excessive inflammation, especially in the transition period, is the gateway to metabolic diseases.


While some inflammation is usual as cows repair and mobilise tissue, especially around calving, the problems start when inflammation becomes acute due to disease or stress.


Dr McConochie says: “When cows suffer inflammation, it is how they change the way they prioritise glucose that is important. Glucose is used in order for lactation, then growth, maintaining pregnancy, replenishing reserves and getting pregnant.


“It all works well until she suffers acute inflammation, then it all changes. Glucose is immediately and solely redirected to the immune system at a huge cost to milk yields.”


He explains a cow requires 100g of glucose to produce 1kg of milk, but an inflammatory response consumes 1kg of glucose every 12 hours, leading to 10kg of milk being lost over the same period, or 20kg/day.


Dr McConochie says: “Now consider that in most herds 10% of cows are experiencing a base level of inflammation due to high cell counts, lameness or dermatitis, and the cost becomes 200kg lost production per 100 cows per day.


“And this is before costs of treatments, elongated days open due to increased body condition loss and poorer fertility, and finally higher culling rates. Many diseases have a negative impact on days from calving to pregnancy as a direct consequence on the impact on inflammation on glucose use [see graph, below].


“You can see why strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation should be a priority.”

It starts with transition

Matthew Pugh, director of Herefordshire-based Belmont Farm and Equine Vets, says ensuring cows have an effective, resilient immune system must be based on minimising stress.


He says cows in the run-up to calving, and in the first 30 days after calving, should be managed to maximise feed intakes and lying times within a high welfare environment.


Mr Pugh says: “Feed intakes are important because ketones which are produced by the cow in response to negative energy balance have been shown to impair immune function.


“The other issue is stress. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced naturally around calving. Cows experiencing stress have higher circulating cortisol, which can suppress immune cell function. This is linked to poor immune response and impacts how the placenta detaches from the uterus and increases risk of cows retaining their placenta and, subsequently, increases risk of metritis.”



In addition to feeding adequate levels of minerals, Dr McConochie stresses the important of using the most effective and bioavailable source.


He says a good mineral is one supported by peer reviewed data, is stable in the rumen and gut and is absorbed effectively. He says only Zinpro Performance Minerals meet all these criteria.


He says: “Selenium, a powerful antioxidant is essential for an effective immune system. When dairy cows are stressed, toxins begin to accumulate in the body.


“These toxins damage tissues, affect normal metabolic function and more importantly suppress immune function.”


He explains that in times of stress, the demand for selenium can increase dramatically, so it is essential an adequate supply of selenium is provided on a daily basis for the production of antioxidants.


Availa®Se is efficiently absorbed and is the most effective at building up reserves of selenium in the tissues, he says. It is ready to be mobilised when cows are challenged by inflammation and need to fight oxidative stress.


“Reserves are particularly important as at time of high demand such as transition, intakes can be at their lowest. Only selenium which is absorbed in combination with an amino acid, such as methionine, will be incorporated and stored in body tissues.”


He says Zinpro Availa®Se is the only selenium source proven to be highly resistant to degradation in the rumen, meaning more is available for absorption.


It is absorbed almost entirely as Seleno-methionine and delivers 60% more Seleno-methionine to the tissues and colostrum than other sources of selenium yeast.


Dr McConochie says: “By being more efficiently absorbed and then retained as body reserves, Zinpro Availa®Se is the most effective way to ensure cows have the selenium they require to fight off infections.

Cow comfort and space are essential in maintaining a strong immune system.
Cow comfort and space are essential in maintaining a strong immune system.


“In addition to selenium, Zinc is required for strengthening the epithelium, for controlling inflammation and promoting good liver function.


“Manganese and copper also play a crucial role in the immune system. The combination of Availa®Zn, Availa®Mn, Availa®Cu and Availa®Se provides the best nutritional support helping boost the immune system and ensure productive and healthy cows.”


Mr Pugh advises considering the following to improve immune function in the transition period:


  • Feed space and feed availability: Needs to be more than 75cm/ cow. Are feed troughs clean? Can all cows feed at the same time?
  • Water: Is the trough clean? Is water pressure sufficient to meet the demands of high yielding cows? A minimum of 10cm trough space/cow is required.
  • Cow comfort and space: Does the shed allow all cows adequate space to move freely from feed to their beds? Can they select a comfortable bed to lie down in which is dry and big enough and with adequate bedding.
  • Rumen health: Is subclinical rumen acidosis in early lactation a risk? The absorption of toxins created within an acidic rumen significantly increase the inflammatory response and reduce the absorption of fatty acids which are used by the liver as building blocks to make glucose.
  • A well-formulated diet: All freshly calved cows experience a degree of energy and protein deficit and can often be deficient in trace elements and vitamins, so ensure the diet is properly balanced.
  • Lame cows: Highly compromised and all effort should be put into an effective preventive programme. Target no lame transition cows.
  • Social dynamics: Group changes are highly disruptive and can lead to a significant stress response. Ensure cows are in the transition yards at least three weeks prior to calving and are kept in stable groups. Ensure transition yards offer plenty of space.
  • People: Does your team handle cows in such a manner to minimise stress? How do they move cows? Being kind and considerate should be their priority. Do they know how to recognise a sick cow quickly and provide effective treatment based on protocols designed with the help of the herd’s vet?
  • Environment: Bacteria and viruses need a warm moist environment with plenty of organic matter, so providing effective drainage and a clean dry bed with a dry atmosphere will limit how often bugs replicate and reduce their survival time, so reducing the challenge to cows.
  • An effective herd health programme: Diseases which can be managed with an effective health plan should not be tolerated.
  • Vaccination strategies: To enable the cow’s immune system to be better primed to face infectious challenges, for example, IBR, E.coli and mastitis vaccines.

For more information:

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Zinpro Sponsored Series Text

This is a sponsored series brought to you by Zinpro Performance Minerals® to help improve animal wellness and performance.