Transition cow management

Transition cow management is one of the most significant advances in dairy nutrition and production over the past 20 years. Around 80% of cow health problems happen around the time of calving.

Providing the right nutrition for cows for 3 weeks prior to calving can greatly improve calving ease, cow and calf welfare, milk production and reproductive performance. A transition feeding program costs only $20 - $60 per cow but returns up to $200 per cow.

However, a recent Dairy Australia survey found only 70% farmers have a structured transition cow management nutrition program and only half of those use an approach capable of meeting all the cow's nutritional needs.

Feed a balanced transition diet to cows and heifers for a full 3 weeks before calving

A successful transition feeding program helps:

  • Prevent milk fever
  • Reduce RFMs, assisted calvings and vaginal discharge
  • Reduce acidosis, ketosis and lameness
  • Save time and money spent on treating sick and downer cows
  • Increase in-calf rates
  • Increase milk production

A balanced transition diet

A balanced transition diet must have the right amount of energy, protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and trace elements and the right DCAD level.

DCAD is the Difference between the Cations (sodium and potassium) and the Anions (chloride and sulphur) in the Diet.

Work with a nutritionist to get the balance right for your herd.

What to feed springers

Springing cows require 100-120 MJ ME per day. To achieve this, the feed needs about 11 MJ ME/kg DM and 14-16% protein. Fibre is also needed to keep acidosis under control.

In general, feed half the amount of grain or concentrate fed to the milkers and in the same form (e.g. pellets). Don’t feed springers the milker ration or feed that contains sodium bicarbonate. This feed is unsuitable for springers and will increase milk fever risk.

For expert advice

Transition Cow Management adviser list (PDF, 362KB)

Contact an adviser trained by Dairy Australia in Transition Cow Management.

More information

Springers: repro ready booklet (PDF, 326KB)

Read about the benefits of a successful transition feeding program and learn some tips to find out if your program is working.

Checklist for Transition Cow Management (PDF, 142KB)

This checklist includes information on springer paddock/feedpads, mastitis risk management, safety, feeding infrastructure and management, people resourcing, and safety and monitoring. 

Transition program review sheet (PDF, 833KB)

How well has the transition program implemented on this farm performed? What changes need to be made?
Use this review sheet to enter the result achieved for each of the key parameters and compare it to the target. 

Transition cow management - a review for nutritional professionals, veterinarians, and farm advisers (PDF, 1984KB)

The most extensive review of transition cow management ever undertaken, drawing on more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers. It provides an up-to-date technical resource for nutritional professionals, veterinarians and farm advisers on the many aspects of transition cow management, and serves as the technical foundation for additional adviser and farmer information resources being developed by Grains2Milk and InCalf.

Tally sheet - Cow health problems at calving (PDF, 79KB) 

Transition diet milk fever risk calculator

Also visit our pages on Body condition scoring.