The transition from gestation to lactation is marked by significant physiological changes for the individual cow such that disease incidence is highest in early lactation. Around the time of calving, cows rely on mobilisation of body energy reserves to fill the energy deficit created by an increase in nutrient demands at a time of restricted feed intake. It is well established that monitoring of body energy reserves in lactation is an important component of herd health management. However, despite their influence on future health and productivity, monitoring of body energy reserves in the dry period is often sparse. Further, there is increasing concern that current dry off management is inappropriate for modern cattle and may influence future disease risk. This study aimed to identify candidate indicators of early lactation production disease from body energy data collected in the dry period and production data recorded at the time of dry off. Retrospective analysis was performed on 482 cow-lactations collected from a long-term Holstein-Friesian genetic and management systems project, the Langhill herd in Scotland. Cow-lactations were assigned to one of four health groups based on health status in the first 30 days of lactation. These four groups were as follows: healthy, reproductive tract disorders (retained placenta and metritis), subclinical mastitis and metabolic disorders (ketosis, hypocalcaemia, hypomagnesaemia and left displaced abomasum). ANOVA, employing a GLM was used to determine effects for the candidate indicator traits. Cows which were diagnosed with a reproductive tract disorder in the first 30 days of lactation experienced a significantly greater loss in body energy content, body condition score and weight in the preceding dry period than healthy cows. The rate of change in body energy content during the first 15 days of the dry period was −18.26 MJ/day for cows which developed reproductive tract disorder compared with +0.63 MJ/day for healthy cows. Cows diagnosed with subclinical mastitis in the first 30 days of lactation had significantly greater milk yield at dry off in the previous lactation than cows that developed a reproductive tract disorder or metabolic disease in addition to a significantly higher yield to body energy content ratio at dry off than healthy cows. Physiological and production traits recorded in the lactation and dry period preceding a disease event differed between cows which developed different diseases post-calving. Differences in these traits allow the development of new disease indicators for use in models for the prediction of disease risk in the transition period.
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