Article Summary: Pre-fresh diets for dairy cows aren't just about feeding cows; they're a smart, necessary approach to nurturing them through the critical pre-calving phase. Discover how these specially tailored diets are not just a matter of animal welfare but a strategic move to boost milk production and quality while ensuring the optimal health and reproductive capabilities of your heifers. Adopting the right pre-fresh feeding strategies can lead to happier cows, reduced veterinary costs, and a thriving dairy business. Get a glimpse of how this practice is reshaping dairy farming, leading to a future where productivity and animal health go hand in hand.

When your cows are in calf, a pre-fresh diet should be on top of your list of priorities. Why? It helps for a healthy transition for your cows into motherhood. 

You might ask yourself why does it matter? In short, you’ll have happier and healthier cows and encourage greater milk yields. The pre-fresh diet is essential for a sustainable and profitable dairy business, and it’s doing the right thing by your cows, too.

What's a pre-fresh cow?

When a cow is about to welcome a new addition to the herd, it is called "a pre-fresh" cow. Pregnancy and motherhood are not easy tasks, even for the cows. That's why they need more attention, care, and access to the best nutrition during the last 45-60 days of gestation. 

When given proper attention, these cows can enhance the overall appearance and profitability of the milking herd. On the contrary, mishandling your cows during this time will cost you post-calving expenses and additional frustrations.

Your cow is in a crucial period of transition and is most vulnerable to many diseases during this phase. It’s best to ensure your cows have a tailored, high-quality, protein-rich diet for a smooth calving process. This will set the stage for a healthy start for both mum and calf.

What's a pre-fresh diet?

Just like it’s vital to keep heifers healthy in the post-calving stage, a pre-fresh diet is essential for expecting cows.

It is a carefully crafted meal plan to ensure a smooth transition as your cows gear up for the calving process, and may contain high quality forages from a variety of sources to support a diverse rumen microbiome. 

Pre-fresh diets prepare your cows for the requirements of lactation and calving by serving multiple essential purposes from calf and cow wellbeing to latching success, higher milk yield, richer milk and cows that are healthy enough to begin their cycle again.

What are some pre-fresh feeding strategies?

A pre-fresh diet has many long-term benefits that will help your cows stay fresh and healthy during the most critical time of calving. Following an adjusted Dietary Cation-Anion diet (DCAD), a ‘positively-charged diet’, is recommended, as it shapes a cow's acid-base status by balancing cations (potassium, sodium) and anions (chloride, sulphur). It increases blood pH and milk production and can be adjusted to fit with each stage of a cow’s reproductive life.

A negative DCAD diet, achieved through the use of chloride and sulphur, lowers urine pH, improving calcium status both before and after calving in your cows. Complete acidification (urine pH 5.5 to 6.0) will improve serum calcium and dry matter intake (DMI), and post-calving milk yields. It can help to reduce the chance of milk fever.

It is essential to select an anion supplement that protects your heifers’ DMI. An ideal pre-fresh feeding strategy will ensure diets include adequate calcium (minimum 180 g, 1.5% dietary calcium) and magnesium (0.45 to 0.50%). Here are some further considerations for when you’re implementing your feed strategy:

  • Make sure to provide a minimum 21-day period on a pre-fresh diet so your cows can adjust to it and get the full benefits of all nutrients. 

  • Dry matter intake (DMI) will reduce due to the hormonal changes right before calving. Make sure not to feed your cows with unpalatable food; otherwise, they may begin to refuse feed altogether.

  • Understand the increasing energy demands of your cows during prepartum and growing fetuses. Like humans, they need to build their strength for birth.

  • Make sure not to overfeed energy to pre-fresh cows, as it can compromise their performance.

  • In the case of Holsteins, they should consume 1,200 grams of metabolisable protein per day.

Benefits of pre-fresh diets

  • Pre-fresh diets fulfil the requirement of nutrients and ensure that your cows maintain a healthy and balanced body condition. 

  • Pre-fresh diet plays an integral part in averting metabolic problems such as fatty liver disease and ketosis. 

  • It promotes the significance of maintaining the right dietary balance to provide adequate colostrum for the newborn.

Challenges of pre-fresh diets

  • Depending on your location and socio-economic factors, you may need help to allocate resources for specialised diets and nutritional programmes.

  • Balancing nutritional requirements and ensuring proper implementation can be difficult to implement, monitor and keep up with, particularly on larger farms or farms without staff.

  • Individualising diets within a larger herd can be difficult, necessitating close monitoring and adjustment.

What are the risks of not having a pre-fresh feed strategy?

  • Without a pre-fresh feed strategy, the risk of metabolic disorders like ketosis and fatty liver syndrome rises, negatively impacting the health of transitioning cows.

  • It may cause complications during calving, potentially affecting both the cow and the newborn.

  • If you unknowingly feed your pre-fresh cows a negatively charged diet, you can put them at greater risk of milk disease (mastitis), leading to further complications.

  • It can contribute to poor post-calving performance, resulting in lower milk production and overall productivity in the herd.

What can you do to get it right?

You can apply tailored pre-fresh diets to meet individual cow nutritional needs for a smooth transition. Also, you need to monitor cow health regularly and see if they need any diet adjustments. Also, keep an eye on their health and promptly address any signs of metabolic disorders or calving issues. The most important thing is to consult an animal nutritionist if you are concerned or unsure. It will help you to optimise and develop effective pre-fresh feeding strategies and assure the health and well-being of your herd.

How can agritech help pre-fresh cows?

Agritech can help in many ways for pre-fresh applications, from preparing pre-fresh feed with specific ingredients and levels to seeing real-time weather forecasts for moving your herdsIt can also help you in monitoring the cow's health to understanding their health requirements, risks and solutions.

For more information, check out’s AI and satellite-based pasture management tech to help with these precision farming efforts.

Remember; a top-notch pre-fresh diet lays the groundwork for healthier, happier cows

Higher milk yields, richer milk and abundant, healthy cycling cows—you can achieve it all by starting with the basics of getting your feed right.

So, the next time you're eyeballing your paddock and thinking about the dairy game, consider the pre-fresh diet—it could be the secret sauce to a legendary season on your farm.

Until we meet again, Happy Dairying!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2023-12-19