Subclinical ketosis is rumbling beneath the surface on many dairy farms and is one of the main reasons for suboptimal performance in early lactation, according to Hefin Richards of Rumenation Nutrition Consultancy.
Hefin Richards says: “I refer to it like driving with the handbrake on. Everything else you do will have limited return, as cows will not be able to reach their potential.”
Ketosis is caused when cows go into extreme negative energy balance around calving and are forced to mobilise excess body tissue. This leads to higher than acceptable ketone levels in the blood.”
Mr Richards believes subclinical disease can often be the cause of cows not reaching their full production potential, taking longer to get pregnant or developing mastitis.
Impossible to see
However, most farms are ‘blissfully ignorant’ of the prevalence of ketosis, due to the fact it is impossible to see without testing.
If you are experiencing problems in the herd, he says there is justification in blood ketone testing every animal between day five and 10 in lactation. Problem cows can then be treated and the root of the issue addressed.
Ongoing monitoring is also worthwhile. This could involve ketone testing a sample of six cows in early lactation. If two cows have higher than acceptable ketone levels, ask why. Are dry matter intakes limited because of high stocking rates or heat stress in the transition yard? Or are cows fat or lame? The greater the number of risk factors, the higher the chance ‘the bricks will crash’ and cows will get ketosis.
Address these issues immediately and identify at-risk sick, old, fat or twin-bearing (SOFT) cows which could benefit from receiving a monensin bolus to prevent ketosis.
References: Raboisson et al, 2015 and Walsh R.B. et al, 2007.
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.
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