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Impact of postpartum milking frequency on the immune system and the blood metabolite concentration of dairy cows

Loiselle, M.C., Ster, C., Talbot, B.G., Zhao, X., Wagner, G.F., Boisclair, Y.R., Lacasse, P. (2009). Impact of postpartum milking frequency on the immune system and the blood metabolite concentration of dairy cows, 92(5), 1900-1912.


The transition from pregnancy to lactation is marked by metabolic, hormonal, and immunological changes that have an impact on the incidence of infectious and metabolic diseases. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect on immune function and blood metabolite concentration of limiting milk production in early lactation to reduce negative energy balance. Twenty-two multiparous Holstein cows were milked either once a day (1×) or twice a day (2×) for the first week postpartum. All cows were milked twice daily for the rest of lactation. Blood concentrations of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA), β-hydroxybutyric acid (BHBA), calcium, bilirubin, urea, phosphorus, glucose, leptin, stanniocalcin-1, and 17β-estradiol were determined in samples collected from 5 wk before scheduled calving to 5 wk after calving. Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNL) were isolated from blood to conduct assays for chemotaxis, phagocytosis, and respiratory burst. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were isolated to evaluate lymphocyte proliferation and cytokine production (tumor necrosis factor-α, IL-4, and interferon-γ). Cows milked 1× produced 31% less milk than cows milked 2× during the first week of lactation. Over the following 13 wk of lactation, the milk production of cows milked 1× during the first week was 8.1% lower than for cows milked 2×. However, because the percentages of fat and protein were greater in the milk from 1× cows, the yields of milk components and energy-corrected milk were similar. Calving induced an increase in the concentrations of NEFA, BHBA, urea, and bilirubin. The increases in levels of NEFA and BHBA were greater in cows milked 2× than in cows milked 1×. During the same period, the serum glucose concentration decreased but remained greater in cows milked 1×. Serum calcium on d 4 and serum phosphorus on d 4 and 5 were greater in cows milked 1×. The differences between the 2 groups persisted beyond treatment until postpartum d 24 for NEFA and glucose and until postpartum d 14 for BHBA. After calving, the concentrations of leptin and stanniocalcin-1 decreased. During the first week postpartum, the decrease of leptin was less marked in cows milked 1×. The immune functions of PBMC and PMNL isolated from experimental cows and incubated using a standard medium did not show clear-cut peripartum immunosuppression. These variables were not significantly affected by the treatments, with the exception of interferon-γ secretion, which was greater on d 5 and 14 in cows milked 1×. In conclusion, limiting milk production in early lactation had positive effects on metabolite concentration, but larger studies are necessary to establish if this could reduce disease incidence. © American Dairy Science Association, 2009.

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