PRIOR LAKE, Minn. – Cows in the transition period are undergoing many changes and can be at high risks for health complications. Effectively monitoring these cows is crucial to ensuring future lactation success.   
Dr. Barry Bradford, a professor at Michigan State University, discussed factors that influence inflammation in transition cows and some possible ways to overcome them. He discussed these details at the Dairy Girl Network national conference Nov. 1-3 in Prior Lake.
Cows that are in the transition period can experience problems such as mastitis, ketosis, metritis, displaced abomasum, hypocalcemia or retained placenta.
Farmers can overlook the transition period prior to calving, and animals can respond to potential health challenges with either tolerance or resistance. The goal is trying to keep the perfect balance between the two, Bradford said.
Bradford also discussed potential causes of postpartum inflammation in dairy cows. Some plausible causes are: social stress, oxidative stress, leaky gut, mastitis, heat stress and uterine involution metritis. Minimizing the potential of these issues can reduce inflammation, Bradford said.
Often times, he said, the top condition many farms face with transition cows are mastitis and ketosis. Those conditions can lead to a decrease of 1,000 pounds during the related lactation compared with herd mates – costing farmers time and money when it comes to care.
To prevent or reduce the risk of postpartum challenges, Bradford said some farmers give anti-inflammatory drugs pre-calving. However, he said, that method can block inflammation on the day of calving which can interfere with the inflammatory signals needed to expel the placenta. Giving such drugs prior to calving can also increase the risk of stillbirth, he said.
“Inflammatory signals are critical to parturition,” Bradford said.
Cows need inflammation to have an immune response and calve, but Bradford said the goal is to rapidly reduce the inflammation, ideally within five days.
Bradford said increased inflammation over time can decrease milk production, promote joint problems and lameness, and can lead to early pregnancy loss.
Bradford said he recommends reducing inflammation by completing herd-level assessments with the lab every four to six months to check for haptoglobin, which may signal an internal issue. Another way to bring inflammation under control is to institute an anti-inflammatory feeding strategy. Omega-3 fatty acids can be expensive but may also reduce the risk of pregnancy loss, Bradford said.
Bradford said a review paper that came out last year showed giving an NSAID at the time of embryo transfer showed an average increase of 15% in pregnancies per embryo transfer, but giving an NSAID at the time of A.I. showed mixed results.
Bradford also said studies have shown giving an NSAID treatment post-calving followed by the trim and treat protocol can reduce the risk of lameness in dairy cattle.    
Inflammation in dairy cows is needed but should be reduced as rapidly as possible. Doing so can allow farmers to keep cows in their herd for more lactations.