Ketosis in the Dairy Herd
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is essentially the cows response to a negative energy balance. In other words:
Energy used > energy taken in (eaten)
Ketosis can be divided into 2 categories:-
1. Primary ketosis - The cow is not obtaining the energy requirement that she needs from the diet that she is eating.
2. Secondary ketosis – A problem with the cow is stopping her from eating enough food to match her energy requirements e.g an LDA stops the cow eating but she still needs energy to move, produce milk etc.
What do cows need energy for?
Seems a simple question but cows use large amounts of energy just to exist. Energy is needed to:-
- Maintain body temperature
- Digest their food
- Produce milk
- Fight infections
You can appreciate how much heat a cow produces when you are stood in a milking parlour on a freezing winter morning – heats up pretty quickly doesn’t it.
Some people can smell a characteristic sweetness to the cows breath but not everyone can smell this. Your vet can usually make a tentative diagnosis using the clinical signs although blood, milk and urine tests are also available for conformation.
Individual animals are best treated as advised by your vet. Propylene glycol drenches or steroid injections can be used as can glucose injections into the vein. Groups – diet should be evaluated and problems corrected.
- Getting the dry period right is essential to correctly condition the cows to cope with the demands of lactation. Cows that are too fat won’t eat enough to meet their energy requirements and will be at risk of developing ketosis (along with LDAs, metritis, poor fertility etc). Aim for cows to calve at between condition score 2.5-3.0.
- Get a chart and regularly score and record your cows condition. This can seem tedious but time spent doing this can identify problems early before they become bigger problems.
- Prepare your dry cows well for the milking cow diet. Gradual slow exposure to the diet that the cows will be eating when they are milking allows the rumen bugs to adapt to the diet.This ensures they are able to utilise the diet as soon as the cow has calved. This has many benefits not just in preventing ketosis.
- Regular metabolic profiling with blood tests can identify potential problems. Edinburgh university run a good scheme with useful practical reports. The faster you can identify a problem the more effectively you can fix it and the less money it ends up costing you.