IN the past 25 years, average milk yields in the UK national herd have increased by 30 per cent and it is expected that they will continue to rise. The lactational demands on the dairy cow make it almost unique in its inability to maintain calcium homeostasis at parturition. Hence, milk fever or clinical periparturient hypocalcaemia is an important production disease in dairy animals, with an estimated annual incidence of 4 to 9 per cent in the UK. Milk fever depresses rumen contractility and is associated with other periparturient disorders such as retained placenta, dystocia, displaced abomasum, mastitis, lameness and ketosis. Periparturient disease and impaired rumen function can cause a drop in feed intake and worsen the precarious postpartum energy status of a cow. Ketosis and negative energy balance in the postpartum period, in turn, exert a strong influence on fertility. By offering the correct advice, it is often fairly easy to reduce the incidence of clinical and subclinical periparturient hypocalcaemia on farm. This article highlights the importance of a proactive, preventive approach, especially bearing in mind the cost of the disease and its association with several other periparturient disorders. This can provide a valuable opportunity for the practitioner to become more involved in herd nutrition.
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