Transition heifers face multiple stressors during the periparturient period, including first exposure to milking, that may adversely impact dry matter intake (DMI), reduce milk production, compromise immune function, and increase susceptibility to disease. It was hypothesized that reducing the combined stressors experienced at calving would improve the periparturient performance, health, and well-being of heifers. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of initiating the milking procedure 3 wk before expected calving on production, DMI, body weight, energy balance, udder health, calving traits, and health status, as indicated by plasma acute phase protein concentrations. Twenty-two primigravid heifers, blocked by expected calving date, were assigned randomly either to a prepartum milking (PM) group or control group. The PM heifers were milked twice daily beginning at 21 d before expected calving, and control heifers were not milked until after calving. All heifers had access to the same precalving and postcalving diets. Results indicated that PM heifers produced more milk during the first 2 wk after calving and had greater DMI as a percentage of body weight during the first month after calving than did control heifers, although energy balance was more negative for PM heifers. The PM heifers had reduced somatic cell counts through the first month after calving and lower average somatic cell scores during lactation despite having more quarters with mastitis infection at calving. The PM heifers had less udder edema at the third milking postcalving, and had reduced concentrations of haptoglobin in blood sooner than did control heifers. These results indicate that prepartum milking is an alternative management practice that has beneficial effects on the production, health, and well-being of first-lactation cows.
- Prepartum milking