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Effects of dry period length and concentrate protein content in late lactation on body condition score change and subsequent lactation performance of thin high genetic merit dairy cows

Dale, A.J., Purcell, P.J., Wylie, A.R.G., Gordon, A.W., Ferris, C.P.
Journal of dairy science 2017 v.100 no.3 pp. 1795-1811
3-hydroxybutyric acid, birth weight, blood serum, body condition, calves, calving, crude protein, dairy cows, diet, drying, fatty acid composition, genetic merit, grass silage, grasses, late lactation, milk fat, milk yield, protein concentrates, risk
Improving body condition score of thin cows in late lactation is necessary, because cows that are thin at drying off exhibit decreased fertility postpartum and are at increased risk of disease and of being culled in the subsequent lactation. Offering a diet low in crude protein (CP) content in late lactation may help to improve body condition score (BCS) at drying off, whereas imposing an extended dry period (EDP) has been advocated as another way to increase BCS at calving. To test these hypotheses, 65 thin cows (mean BCS 2.25 at 14 wk precalving) were managed on 1 of 3 treatments between 13 and 9 wk prepartum: normal protein control {NP; grass silage + 5 kg/d of a normal protein concentrate [228 g of CP/kg of dry matter (DM)]}, low protein [LP; grass silage + 5 kg/d of a low-protein concentrate (153 g of CP/kg of DM)], or EDP (cows dried off at 13 wk precalving and offered a grass silage-only diet). Both NP and LP cows were dried off at wk 8 prepartum, after which all cows were offered a grass silage-only diet until calving. After calving, all cows were offered a common diet (supplying 11.1 kg of concentrate DM/cow per day) for 19 wk. Between 13 and 9 wk prepartum, LP cows had lower DM intake, milk yield, and body weight than NP cows. Whereas EDP cows had lower serum β-hydroxybutyrate and fatty acid concentrations than those of NP cows, BCS at wk 9 prepartum did not differ between treatments. Cows on the LP treatment continued to have lower DMI and BW than those of NP and EDP cows between 8 wk prepartum and calving, but only EDP cows had a higher BCS at calving. Treatment did not affect calving difficulty score or calf birth weight. Although all cows were offered a common diet postpartum, cows on the LP treatment had lower DM intake and milk fat + plus protein yield than cows on any other treatment during the 19-wk period postpartum, but we found no differences in any postpartum indicator of body tissue reserves. The treatments imposed from wk 13 to 9 prepartum had no effect on any fertility or health parameters examined postpartum. Extending the dry period for thin cows improved their BCS at calving but did not allow these cows to achieve the target BCS of 2.75, and we found no beneficial effects of this treatment on cow performance postpartum. Offering a lower-protein diet to thin cows in late lactation did not improve BCS at calving above that of cows on a normal protein diet, but had unexplained long-term negative effects on cow performance.