Animal models to study the impact of nutrition on the immune system of the transition cow
The immune system is particularly challenged in transition cows as marked physiological changes occur in this period which are driven by late gestation, partus and onset of lactation. As a consequence, the metabolic and nutritional state of the cow also changes significantly with possible implications for the plasticity and flexibility of the immune system. In order to understand how the balance between metabolism, nutritional status and the immune system is maintained under challenging conditions, such as an infection, various animal models can be used which specifically manipulate the nutritional status through various feeding and management strategies. Such models aim at exploring the immunological response to a challenge under largely varying nutritional and metabolic states. As energy balance (EB) is strongly associated both with the metabolic state and with the immunoreactivity of the cows the manipulation of the EB by either influencing energy intake or energy excretion with milk, or by both, offers model opportunities for studying EB effects on the immune system. For example, assigning cows with a higher body condition score (BCS) at least 6 weeks prior to calving to an energy-dense diet exceeding the energy requirement in combination with a decelerated increase in the concentrate feed proportion post partum was shown to be effective in inducing a ketotic metabolic state under ad libitum feeding conditions. Compared to an adequately managed control group this model allows studying immune responses in the transit period and in dependence on dietary interventions.