Fifty-six Holstein dairy cows from a commercial dairy herd in the Northern part of Greece were used to determine the effect of vitamin E supplementation on immune parameters, milk composition and milk quality. Cows were assigned to one of two experimental groups: control (no vitamin E supplementation) and vitamin E supplementation. Supplementation of vitamin E started 4 weeks prior to and continued up to 12 weeks after parturition. Supplementation included daily oral administration of vitamin E at 3000 i.u./cow prepartum and was reduced to 1000 i.u./cow post partum. Blood samples were collected weekly for 8 weeks starting 4 weeks before parturition, neutrophils were isolated and the following parameters were determined in neutrophils activated by phorbol myristate acetate: total cell-associated and membrane-bound urokinase plasminogen activator (u-PA) activity and superoxide production. Milk samples were collected weekly and fat, protein, lactose, somatic cell count (SCC), plasmin and plasminogen-derived activity were determined. Activated neutrophils isolated from cows that received supplemental vitamin E had higher (P<0·01) total and membrane-bound u-PA activities during the first 3 weeks after parturition and higher (P<0·01) superoxide production during week 1 prepartum and week 1 post partum compared with the corresponding values of activated neutrophils isolated from control cows. Vitamin E supplementation had no effect (P=0·28) on plasminogen-derived activity in milk. Milk obtained from cows that received supplemental vitamin E had SCC lower by 25% (P<0·05) and plasmin lower by 30% (P<0·01) than corresponding values in milk obtained from control cows. The reduction in plasmin as a result of vitamin E supplementation is very beneficial to the dairy industry because plasmin reduces the cheese-yielding capacity of milk, affects the coagulating properties of milk and its overall ability to withstand processing during cheesemaking. In conclusion, vitamin E supplementation had positive effects on the function of bovine neutrophils and milk quality in a commercial dairy herd.
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