Physical exercise prepartum to support metabolic adaptation in the transition period of dairy cattle: A proof of concept

Roselinde M.A. Goselink*, Jan Thomas Schonewille, Gert van Duinkerken, Wouter H. Hendriks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In dairy cattle, the hormonal changes around calving induce large metabolic changes to support milk production. Mobilization of adipose reserves is one of the changes involved, imposing a metabolic load on the liver. We hypothesized that the risk for excessive lipolysis and hepatic lipidosis postpartum can be reduced by starting fat mobilization and processing during the prepartum period by physical exercise, especially in cows with a high body condition score (BCS). As a proof of concept, 32 pregnant Holstein-Friesian dairy cows were selected for a 2 × 2 experimental design. Sixteen cows had a BCS < 3.25 (group LOW) and 16 cows a BCS ≥ 3.25 (group HIGH). Cows within each group were randomly allocated to one of two treatments: group STEP was walked twice daily for 45 min during the dry period while group CON remained indoors. Treatment was stopped at calving and cows were monitored until 6 weeks after calving. Liver biopsies were taken in a subset of 16 cows to determine liver triglyceride (TG) concentration. We found that calculated energy balance was more negative for group STEP prepartum, resulting in higher plasma non-esterified fatty acids and β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations. During the first 6 weeks postpartum, neither dry matter intake nor milk yield was affected by exercise. As expected, the cows in group HIGH had increased liver TG concentrations postpartum relative to group LOW with increased plasma non-esterified fatty acids directly after calving. Exercise during the dry period mitigated postpartal liver TG accumulation, but this did not seem to be related to increased plasma lipoprotein transport. We conclude that substantial physical activity prepartum can induce lipolysis and lipid utilization, thereby starting an early adaptation to lactation. This may be instrumental to reduce the risk for excessive liver TG accumulation postpartum, especially in cows with a high BCS at dry-off.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)790-801
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • body condition
  • calving
  • dairy cow
  • energy metabolism
  • exercise physiology
  • fat metabolism
  • hepatic lipidosis
  • lipoprotein

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Physical exercise prepartum to support metabolic adaptation in the transition period of dairy cattle: A proof of concept'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this