After parturition, cows undergo negative energy balance leading to fat mobilization, predisposing them to fatty liver syndrome and ketosis with major consequences for health and reproduction. Supplementation of rumen-protected choline (RPC) has attracted major research efforts during the last decade, assuming that choline improves liver function by increasing very low-density lipoprotein exportation from the liver, thereby improving metabolic profiles, milk production, and reproduction. However, the effects of RPC on production, health, and reproduction have been inconsistent. Therefore, the aim of this meta-analysis was to evaluate the effects of RPC supplementation, starting from d 20 (± 12.2) ante partum to d 53 (± 31.0) postpartum, on feed intake, milk production performance and metabolic profiles of dairy cows early postpartum. Data analyses from 27 published studies showed an increase in postpartal dry matter intake (from on average 19.1 to 19.9 kg/d; p
< 0.01) and milk yield (from on average 31.8 to 32.9 kg/d; p
= 0.03) in cows receiving RPC. Milk fat yield and milk protein yield were also increased (p
≤ 0.05), without changing milk protein and fat contents. However, no interactive effects between cow’s milk yield level and RPC-supplementation as well as no dose-dependent effects of RPC supplementation were observed. Supplementing the diet with RPC showed no effects on blood metabolites (non-esterified fatty acids, beta-hydroxybutyrate, glucose, and cholesterol), independent of the milk yield level of the cows. An effect on liver triacylglycerol contents, incidence of ketosis, and mastitis could not be confirmed across all studies included in this meta-analysis. Also, the positive effects of RPC supplementation on reproductive performance were not consistent findings. In conclusion, supplementing RPC in lactating dairy cows showed positive effects on dry matter intake which likely caused the improved milk yield. However, RPC supplementation did not improve the metabolic health status of the cows. As several factors might be related to the responses to RPC, further research is needed to explore the precise mechanisms of RPC action in lactating cows, especially with regards to feed intake improvement and its related metabolic health-promoting potential in early lactating dairy cows.
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