Three main preventive principles against milk fever were evaluated in this literature review, and the efficacy of each principle was estimated from the results of controlled investigations. Oral calcium drenching around calving apparently has a mean efficacy of 50%–60% in terms of milk fever prevention as well as prevention of milk fever relapse after intravenous treatment with calcium solutions. However, some drenches have been shown to cause lesions in the forestomacs. When using the DCAD (dietary cation-anion difference) principle, feeding rations with a negative DCAD (measured as (Na + K) – (Cl + S)) significantly reduce the milk fever incidence. Calculating the relative risk (RR) of developing milk fever from controlled experiments results in a mean RR between 0.19 and 0.35 when rations with a negative versus positive DCAD are compared. The main drawback from the DCAD principle is a palatability problem. The principle of feeding rations low in calcium is highly efficient in milk fever prevention provided the calcium intake in the dry period is kept below 20 g per day. Calculating the relative risk (RR) of developing milk fever from controlled experiments results in a very low mean RR (between 0 and 0.20) (daily calcium intake below versus above 20 g/d). The main problem in implementing the low-Ca principle is difficulties in formulating rations sufficiently low in calcium when using commonly available feeds. The use of large doses of vitamin D metabolites and analogues for milk fever prevention is controversial. Due to toxicity problems and an almost total lack of recent studies on the subject this principle is not described in detail. A few management related issues were discussed briefly, and the following conclusions were made: It is important to supply the periparturient cow with sufficient magnesium to fulfil its needs, and to prevent the dry cows from being too fat. Available information on the influence of carbohydrate intake, and on the effect of the length of the dry period and prepartum milking, is at present insufficient to include these factors in control programmes.
Keywords: dairy cows, parturient hypocalcaemia, milk fever prevention