The transition period is the time of greatest risk for the health of the dairy cow and it is a critical period also for the impact that it can have on milk production.

As the time of calving approaches the body undergoes an important series of physiological changes. The mammary glands prepare for the production of milk and the foetus continues to grow. The animal is committed to maintaining the energy balance, an efficient immune system and to regulate calcium levels. The stress of calving and the beginning of milk production are the triggering factors of a series of diseases that may occur in the subsequent period, including: ketosis, milk fever, retention of foetal membranes and puerperal metritispuerperal metritis, abomasal dislocation, lameness and mastitis.
In order to correctly manage this critical period it is necessary to provide a balanced and correct feed ration based on the needs of the dry period and for the beginning of lactation, paying particular attention to feed quality. It is also essential to maintain heifers and cows separated in order to cope with their different dietary needs.

Extremely important is the monitoring of dry matter intake and of the Body Condition Score (BCS). In the last 3 weeks of gestation the dry matter intake can decrease by up to 30%;¹ if this is not compensated by appropriate dietary management it can be the cause of negative energy balance at the end of the dry period and may predispose to the onset of metabolic problems (such as ketosis) that may indirectly favour the onset of the above mentioned disorders. The BCS is essential to evaluate the accumulation of fat and the condition of the animal. Animals that are obese in the period prior to calving are in fact at greater risk of having complications at calving, metabolic problems, low milk yields and fertility problems.

¹ Grant R. J. et al., (1995), Feeding behavior and management factors during the transition period in dairy cattle. Journal of Animal Science, Vol 73, Issue 9 2791-2803
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