Ketosis is one of the metabolic diseases we routinely deal with in dairy cows in early lactation and can cause significant issues in the herd at a sub-clinical level. In early lactation all cows are in some degree of negative energy balance, as they are physiologically programmed to mobilise body fat to produce milk. Some negative energy balance is normal, and most cows adapt rapidly to cope with this period. However, illness, being over conditioned (Body condition score >5.5) at calving, or not being offered enough energy in the diet will lead to animals suffering severe or prolonged negative energy balance. These animals that cannot adapt, produce products in their liver called ketone bodies, which at high doses are toxic to the body. High levels of ketone bodies can result in decreased appetite, reduced milk production, rapid condition loss, neurological signs and going down.
Clinical ketosis is easy to identify in the colostrum mob, but the cows that are sub-clinically affected will be having the biggest impact on your herd’s performance. Sub-clinically affected cows will not be obviously sick, but will have reduced appetite, decreased milk production, increased rate of condition loss and will have a higher likelihood of having endometritis and reduced reproductive performance. There can be a significant number of these animals in your herd, without any showing clinical signs.
The easiest way to identify if sub-clinical ketosis is an issue in your herd is to blood test cows for ketone bodies. Blood samples can either be sent to the lab (if other testing is required, e.g. calcium or magnesium) or can be tested immediately, on-farm, using a handheld analyser. By using this cow-side test, we can rapidly test and identify if sub-clinical ketosis is an issue for your farm.
If you have any concerns about sub-clinical ketosis or metabolic disease in your herd, or if your cows are just not performing as well as you would expect post-calving, please give your vet a call and we will be more than happy to help.