Most farmers understand the costly impact of ketosis, but few recognise the extent of the problem in their herds or have a preventative approach in place, according to a recent survey.
A total of 135 dairy farmers, with a range of different herd sizes, shared their views on the disease as part of the Ketosis: State of the Nation survey carried out by Farmers Guardian, in partnership with Elanco.
Of those surveyed, 44 per cent said 10 per cent of cows got off to a bad or slow start to lactation, with 22 per cent identifying ketosis as the likely main cause.
However, just 12 per cent said they had a preventative strategy in place for the condition.
Elanco vet and dairy farmer Kate Heller says this highlights a huge opportunity for farmers to make gains in both health and productivity.
She says: “Ketosis will be present in some animals on every farm as negative energy balance [NEB] occurs at calving.
The aim is to minimise those animals which go through excessive NEB and ketosis, through using appropriate preventative management strategies.”
Results highlighted a wide range in the number of cows getting off to a poor start to lactation, with a small number of producers saying 70 per cent of animals were having issues at this time.
Large ranges have also been reported across the country between farms in another recent study and are likely to reflect different challenges and management systems on-farm.
Ms Heller highlights that ketosis is a gateway disease, which sees increased risk for many other post-calving diseases, for example cows with subclinical ketosis are 5.2 times more likely to get a displaced abomasum and 3.4 times more likely to develop metritis.
Reduced fertility is also one of the main consequences of subclinical disease, which can see 22 days longer returning to oestrus and a 50 per cent reduction in conception rate at first service.
With up to 358kg of lost production also a consequence of ketosis, the costs associated soon mount, highlighting the opportunity in reducing ketosis on-farm.
For more information on how to combat Ketosis, visit the Elanco Hub
Extreme NEB is the main reason for cows developing ketosis. NEB is a natural physiological occurrence all cows will go through at calving.
It occurs when a cow’s energy demands exceed energy intakes.
This is exacerbated by the fact a cow’s inclination to eat reduces at this time, leading to reduced dry matter intakes.
When transition is very well managed, a cow should recover from normal levels of NEB.
However, problems occur when animals are tipped into extreme NEB, due to being overcrowded, over-conditioned or carrying twins, for example.
If this occurs, she is forced to mobilise excess body tissue, leading to higher than acceptable ketone levels in blood and the onset of ketosis.
Results from the survey suggest that although farmers recognise ketosis as an issue, not all make the connection with NEB.
In fact, only 5 per cent of respondents recognised all cows were experiencing some degree of NEB around calving.
Ms Heller says the key is to prevent cows from tipping over into extreme NEB and developing ketosis.
This stems from promoting intakes around calving, and stocking rates, animal movements, feed and water access can be key to this.
Identifying cows which are at increased risk of ketosis can result in preventative measures being taken to reduce risk and subsequent impact on health, productivity and fertility.
Most farmers recognised sick, old, fat or twin-bearing animals were more at risk of developing ketosis.
Fourteen per cent believed high yielders were more at risk. However, Christopher Pennelegion, Elanco dairy marketing manager, says this is a misnomer.
He says: “In Elanco’s State of the Nation, we typically see that high yielding herds are not always those with the highest risk of ketosis.
Ultimately, this is because ketosis can be as a result of energy in, rather than production out; it is that balance.”
For example, figures for May show that on average, herds yielding fewer than 7,500 litres per cow per year had a ketosis incidence of 29 per cent.
Herds yielding more than 9,500 litres had an incidence of 22 per cent. Data from grass-based herds in New Zealand show subclinical disease has an impact on these systems too.
Results suggest subclinical ketosis causes a 7 per cent reduction in six-week in-calf rate and 9.5 per cent increase in endometritis.
Mr Pennelegion says: “Grazing can increase risk, as grass quality can be variable.
If they are not getting enough energy, even if they are not high yielding, it is a wider energy gap and they are at risk.”
He says this underlines that a preventative approach is important on all farms, regardless of system.
This begins with getting dietary management right; an area highlighted by more than half of farmers as key to preventing this issue.
Targeted use of monensin boluses to increase energy in at risk animals three to four weeks pre-calving, therefore decreasing their energy gap, is a fundamental strategy to preventing ketosis.
However, only 17-22 per cent of farmers recognised this approach.
Ms Heller says the key is to use tools available to help those at risk have as smooth a transition as possible considering where they are three to four weeks pre-calving, while ensuring other management factors are addressed to maximise the potential for the whole herd.
Elanco currently analyses milk recording data from about 200 herds, representing 33,500 cows across England, Scotland and Wales. Analysing individual cow milk fat to protein ratio gives an indication of whether an animal may be affected by ketosis. A ratio of >1.4 suggests excess body fat may be being mobilised. The problem can then be investigated.
Visit the Ketosis State of the Nation Hub at FGinsight.com/KetosisSOTN
to find out what the ketosis incidence is in your region and view resources to help you manage the problem
Get involved with #KetosisSOTN
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