Time for a Closer Look at Rumen-Protected Choline for Transition Cows

May 24, 2013 06:30 AM

Cows fed this additive show fewer metabolic problems -- plus a 5 lb. increase in milk.

Lundquist Rick 0610 005   photo   CopyBy Rick Lundquist, Ph.D.

I have finally started grazing at the rumen-protected choline section of the feed additive buffet. I have been reluctant to include rumen-protected choline in my clients’ transition diets, mainly because anything that costs 30 cents per head per day requires a relatively certain return on the investment. I don’t like wasting my clients’ money.

The science behind the role of choline in fat metabolism, and hence its potential benefits to the transition cow, has never been in question. Improvements in rumen protection as well as a recent meta-analysis of several rumen-protected choline studies have shown a very consistent response, not only in reduced metabolic problems but also with more milk.

Once we get out of the starting blocks (the transition period), the cow is pretty much off to the races, so anything we can do to consistently keep the cow out of the metabolic ditch is usually money well spent. If rumen-protected choline is fed 21 days prefresh through 30 days postfresh, the total cost would be about $15.00. I think that most dairy producers would invest $15.00 if they were reasonably sure it helped a cow get through the transition period in good health.

Choline video
Click here for a a Balchem-sponsored video to better understand the choline-liver fat link.

Choline is a required nutrient for monogastric animals, but the National Research Council (NRC) has not yet established a recommended dietary level for dairy cattle. Dietary choline has to be protected from rumen degradation to be effective for dairy cattle.

Immediately after calving, body fat is rapidly mobilized, overwhelming the liver’s ability to metabolize it. This can result in a fatty liver, which can lead to ketosis, an impaired immune system and all the associated maladies. Choline is a part of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), which transports fat out of the liver.

In addition to a reduction in metabolic problems associated with a fatty liver, the meta-analysis showed about a 5 lb. increase in milk during the period when cows were fed rumen-protected choline. I would assume that the milk response is a result of improved health during the transition period. This should pay for the choline and then some. It makes the decision to feed rumen-protected choline a little easier. 

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. He provides livestock production advice.

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