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7 feed additives to consider for fresh cow rations

Angie Golombeski for Progressive Dairy Published on 17 August 2020

Fresh cows experience many stressors and challenges in the first few days and weeks after parturition. These stressors and challenges take their toll on the cows’ immune systems, making these cows more susceptible to metabolic and health problems. It is crucial that dietary needs are met during the close-up dry period, as well as after calving, in order for the cows to get off to a great start for lactation.

After calving, it may be difficult for the fresh cow to consume enough dry matter to meet the growing nutritional demands of lactation. As a result, the cow will begin to mobilize body reserves in order to meet energy needs, which may also put the cow at risk for various metabolic disorders. These metabolic disorders have a negative impact on lactation performance and profitability.



There are several feed additives that have the potential to maximize production efficiency and decrease the incidence of metabolic disorders in fresh cows. Because some of these additives work best for herds with a separate fresh cow ration, work with your nutritionist to add ration ingredients and additives where they best fit into the ration. Some additives that can be beneficial for fresh cows include:

  • Yeast: Can improve dry matter intake and rumen function. With yeast, there can be several different modes of action within the rumen, depending upon whether the yeast is live or a yeast culture. Within the rumen, the yeast may decrease lactate, increase fiber-digesting bacteria potential or increase microbial efficiency. Because of the benefits of yeast across all stages of production, yeast can be easily implemented on farms that do not have a separate pen for fresh cows.

  • Amino acids: Methionine, especially, can improve milk production and dry matter intake and boost immunity by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress. Research has indicated rumen-protected methionine and methionine analogs both result in increased production potential when fed during the close-up and fresh periods. The best results have been demonstrated when methionine is fed beginning in the dry period and followed into lactation, so the farm should have a designated close-up ration in order to best implement this feed additive on farm.

  • Monensin: Can improve energy metabolism. Sufficient energy is required to meet the demands of milk production, with the cow’s demand for glucose nearly doubling within 11 days of calving. Monensin delivers the cow with the glucogenic precursors needed to meet the demands of production when dry matter intake may not be sufficient enough to meet those demands alone.

  • Rumen-protected choline: Helps the liver export fat and, subsequently, helps to prevent fatty liver and ketosis and increases milk production. At the beginning of lactation, most cows experience some degree of negative energy balance where the cow mobilizes fat stores for energy. This results in the production of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs). Some of the NEFAs will be utilized as energy by the mammary gland, but many will go to the liver to be metabolized. The liver has a limited ability to process fats, so this could potentially result in fatty liver disease or ketosis. Since choline can be degraded in the rumen, it is important that the choline source for fresh cows is rumen-protected. Due to the cost, rumen-protected choline is best implemented on farms that separate far-off and close-up dry cows, as well as have a separate pen for the fresh cows.

  • Chromium: Can improve dry matter intake and immune function and supports energy metabolism. In early lactation, the glucose demands of the cow are high. Chromium helps the fresh cow to partition glucose efficiently by increasing insulin activity. This leaves more glucose available for the cow for maintenance, immunity, milk production and reproduction.

  • B vitamins: Involved in energy balance and can improve health and production. The B vitamins include biotin, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin and vitamin B12. Often, it is assumed that these vitamins are produced in sufficient quantities within the rumen, but some of these vitamins may not be produced in sufficient enough quantities to maximize performance. Many times, these vitamins can be found together in a rumen-protected blend that can be fed to decrease the incidence of ketosis and also increase production and reproductive potential.

  • Mycotoxin binder: Mycotoxins can be found in just about all types of forages and processed grains. These toxins originate from molds and fungi due to favorable conditions while the crop is still in the field or due to storage conditions. Because fresh cows are under stress with compromised immune systems, mycotoxins become an even greater concern. Besides having negative effects on rumen and immune function, mycotoxins can also reduce dry matter intake and milk production, among other things. Arguably, mycotoxin binders should be included in all close-up and fresh cow rations.

Fresh cows are at risk for various metabolic issues, but through careful management and working with your nutritionist to strategically feed additives, fresh cows can get off to a great start with their lactation.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.


Angie Golombeski
  • Angie Golombeski

  • Dairy Nutritionist
  • Hubbard Feed
  • Email Angie Golombeski