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Are You Thinking About Hypocalcemia?

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
March 25, 2015        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Are You Thinking About Hypocalcemia?
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (03/25/15) — On many dairy farms, hypocalcemia is a problem farmers are aware of, but it’s not an issue at the front of their minds.  Perhaps it should be.  Hypocalcemia could have a larger impact on the success of herds than previously thought. 

Hypocalcemia cannot be successfully managed in a reactive fashion as the repercussions of the disorder have already set in.  Prevention programs must be in place in order to successfully transition cows into lactation as well as ensure that these cows have good reproductive performance to follow. 

Classic signs of milk fever are cows that are staggering, have cold ears, and lie in a tucked head position. During the transition period, there is a dramatic shift in biological processes, and the demand for calcium is doubled with the onset of lactation.  Calcium is a major cellular signal needed for a range of biological functions.  Secondary risks include issues with muscle contraction, lowered gut motility, displaced abomasum, ketosis, and fatty liver.

There are also economic losses associated with hypocalcemia that come in a variety of forms.  Decreased milk production, poor subsequent reproductive performance, and culling can all have a negative impact on profitability.  In addition, calcium is an important second messenger in immune responses.  The cow’s ability to combat infections declines once hypocalcemia sets in.  Incidence of mastitis and metritis rises following hypocalcemia.

A proven method for controlling hypocalcemia is the use of a prepartum diet with a negative dietary cation-anion difference, or DCAD.  By keeping out cations sodium and potassium, and using anions chloride and sulfate, the DCAD becomes more negative.  This helps the cow prepare for parturition and mobilization of calcium stores.  Diets can be made more anionic by the use of supplementary anion products.  However, first rations should lower the potassium and sodium content before these products are added.

Hypocalcemia is a detrimental disorder that affects health, lactation, and reproductive performance in too many dairy cows.  Having tailored management programs in place will help successfully transition cows.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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