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Posted: 09/26/2023
Dairy cow with calf

Calcium After Calving: Why Supplements are Critical

Compared to other species, lactating dairy cows have high nutritional needs. Following calving, the body requires extra energy sources to sufficiently produce quality colostrum and support digestion. On top of that, maximizing intake is critical for avoiding postpartum illness and longer term reproductive health. That’s where calcium supplementation comes in. Let’s talk about why calcium is important for cattle – both the individual and the herd – and what kinds of supplements are available to producers.

What Does Calcium Do for Cattle?

Calcium is important for cows’ skeleton tissue, muscle strength and nerve function. It’s also part of what keeps their gastrointestinal movement consistent. Though cows get calcium from legumes like pasture clover and alfalfa, intake varies. When they need to compensate for low intake, they can pull calcium stored in bones.

During late gestation, the cow’s natural colostrum production spurs greater demand for calcium. That demand only increases after calving and with greater milk production. However, those on second lactation (or later) often can’t keep up with the high calcium demand. This imbalance results in hypocalcemia (commonly known as milk fever).

How Calcium Improves the Health of the Herd

Hypocalcemia not only affects freshening cows – it plays a role in milk production and reproductive activity in the future. What’s more: Low post-calving calcium levels more often leads to fatty liver/ketosis and a higher likelihood of developing a retained placenta or mastitis.

Supplemental calcium can certainly help avoid these scenarios, but it also stimulates post-calving appetites, boosts immunity and drives higher milk production. Add it all up and these benefits translate into more consistent and longer-term profits.

Do Your Cows Have a Calcium Deficiency?

As we mentioned, it’s common for cows to experience a period of negative calcium and phosphorus balance during early lactation. The combination of their body working diligently to produce milk with a lower dry matter intake makes that imbalance even greater. So they’re consuming less in a time when they naturally need more.

You’ll be able to tell when your cows are calcium deficient and experiencing hypocalcemia when they exhibit:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Low temperature
  • Increased heart rate
Calcium concentrations typically return to normal within 2-3 days following calving, as long as cows are otherwise healthy. Also keep in mind that first-calf heifers are less at risk for a deficiency because they don’t produce as much colostrum. These animals are also able to mobilize bone-stored calcium quicker than their more experienced counterparts. Jersey and Guernsey cattle, however, do tend to show more susceptibility to a deficiency.

Calcium Supplements from Durvet

Durvet Calcium Supplements for Dairy Cattle

Oral calcium supplements delivered to cows after calving can help prevent hypocalcemia. Each of these easy-to-use Durvet gel supplements for dairy cattle contain a “TRUE GEL” base that prevents the supplement from running out of the animal’s mouth after it’s administered (it’s important for avoiding under-dosing):

These gel products also contain citric acid to aid in the absorption of ingredients and there’s absolutely no withdrawal time. Expect to administer a tube prior to or after calving and give another 12-24 hours after calving, but always read label instructions closely.

Something else you know you can expect from Durvet products: value. We like to say Durvet products Deliver Undeniable Reliable Value Every Time. See how one of these options supports the health of your herd while also protecting your wallet.

Carrying On with Calcium from PBS Animal Health

Following calving and early lactation, calcium is the key for greater return on investment. Yes, the dams have done lots of work to get to carry and deliver their calves, but don’t forget about the equally important efforts to come and the additional nutritional requirements they have during lactation. Find the calcium supplements and other post-calving nutritional products you need right here at PBS Animal Health.

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