General Post Calving Nutrition with Fresh Calver

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Calving is the most stressful and demanding time for the cow. Beyond the physiological demands of parturition itself, the dam immediately has to divert resources such as energy and calcium into milk production. This is particularly impactful for high yielding dairy cows but can cause problems in any type of system. In addition to these increased demands, we often see a drop in dry matter intake (DMI) post calving putting further strain on the animal’s metabolism. These factors are key to the two common metabolic disorders we see post calving, ketosis & hypocalcaemia (Milk Fever), and understanding the causes can help in developing preventative strategies.


Ketosis, or hyperketonaemia, is a problem linked to the features of ruminant digestion. Blood glucose is typically produced in the liver from volatile fatty acids produced by the ruminal flora. Post calving there is a sharp rise in the need for glucose, and this, combined with reduced DMI can lead to a shortfall.

The cow compensates for this by producing Ketones as an alternative energy source post calving. This is normal providing ketone levels do not become too high, if they do the we see the signs of Ketosis. Signs can be vague and non-specific until the condition gets increasingly severe. Some cows will show no outward signs at all. This means that although being very common, ketosis can go undiagnosed.

Signs include reduced appetite or anorexia, reduced milk production and depression. Severe cases can show aggression and ataxia. It can also lead onto other health issues later into lactation such as displaced abomasum and milk loss.

Because signs can be vague, testing for ketones in either blood, milk or urine is used to identify individual cases or wider herd problems.

Once identified oral dosing with Propan 1, 2 diol has been shown to shorten recovery times and reduce the other disorders that can follow an episode. Severe cases are best seen and treated by your vet.


Hypocalcaemia, or Milk Fever, is a very common issue post calving, especially in dairy herds, with risks increasing with the cow’s age. Starting lactation suddenly puts a large demand on the cow for calcium. Although an individual cow will have significant reserves of calcium, these are stored predominately in the skeleton with limited amounts circulating in the blood.

Immediately post calving, the sudden high demand for calcium by the udder producing milk can exceed the amount available, putting this system out of balance resulting in hypocalcaemia.

This common condition is well recognised on farm usually within 48 hours of calving. Typical signs include loss of appetite, dullness and lethargy which can quickly proceed to recumbency. Diagnosis is often confirmed by a rapid response to the administration of calcium by slow intra venous or sub cutaneous injection. Despite this quick recovery in uncomplicated cases, ongoing oral supplementation is often required.

Prevention and control

Nutrition is central to prevention or reducing the incidence of these conditions. In particular, diet in the dry period and running up to calving needs careful management. Both calcium and energy levels are the result of many interacting external factors and cow’s own control mechanisms. It should be remembered that these conditions don’t result from absolute deficiencies, rather they are an inability for the cow to effectively mobilise resources in response to the sudden demand as lactation starts.

Every herd is different, and diets will vary widely in nutrient levels. Prevention relies on a good knowledge of the herd, individual animals and the aims of nutrition in the run up to calving. In many cases expert advice can help optimise this preparation and should be considered if either hypocalcaemia or ketosis is becoming a significant problem.

To reduce ketosis, it’s important to avoid over conditioning in the dry period, but equally restricting energy before calving can cause problems. Effective grouping of cows with appropriate feed regimes is therefore useful along with monitoring of body scores and ration adjustment as required.

For milk fever, various dietary regimes can be implemented to find practical strategies for the farm. These aim to prepare the cow best for the sudden calcium demands of lactation.  As these regimes require careful planning alongside feed analysis and estimating the needs for particular groups of animals, qualified nutritional advice often required to identify the best preventative measures for an individual herd.

Alongside diet, management a calving is also important to help reduce incidence of these condition. Housing and stocking levels aimed at maximising feed intake with appropriate supplements help reduce the impact of calving. Reducing any potential stress at this key time is also important.

In addition to Hypocalcaemia and ketosis, the calving period is a critical phase in the lactation cycle. Calving cows are at risk of dystocia, hypocalcaemia, displaced abomasum and retained foetal membranes. Optimising management and nutrition in the weeks leading up to parturition can help offset some of these costly issues.

Fresh Calver from Nettex is a palatable supplement to support quick cow recovery post calving. It provides immediately available energy & electrolytes to aid rehydration post calving. It also contains available calcium to help support increased demand & Vitamin E and selenium to help support cleansing.