Diagnosing Ketosis in Early Lactation Dairy Cows - Which Test Is Best?

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Bilodeau, Alyssa
Almy, Haley
Ketosis is a metabolic disease affecting over 20% of high producing dairy cattle globally during the early postpartum period. During this stage, the net energy balance of the cow is negative due to her diminished appetite and increased energy needs at the onset of lactation. An excessive negative energy balance results in ketosis, which can lead to further decreased feed intake, other secondary inflammatory diseases, and even death. This is significant to both dairy farmers and consumers. While a great deal of research has been conducted pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the disease, debates continue among scholars regarding best practices. The objective of this study was to address some of the gaps in ketosis research by examining the relationship between Body Condition Score (BCS) and ketosis prevalence as well as the best testing methods. BCS levels as well as blood and milk samples were collected from early lactation cows (n=15) weekly for 5 weeks. Preliminary results showed that cows ranging 14-21 days in milk (DIM) possessed higher levels of ketones and lower body condition scores over time. Correlations between ketone levels and BCS were observed as 56.76% of the cows had a BCS of > 3.5/5.0 and 33.33% of those cows displayed subclinical or clinical ketosis. Conversely, 43.24% of the cows had BCS < 3.5 and 50.00% of those cows displayed subclinical or clinical ketosis. These findings suggest that thinner cows had a greater incidence of ketosis during early lactation and the best way to monitor them was by regularly testing and assessing BCS. The best testing method was evaluated by examining cost, precision, and ease of use amongst college students of varied experience. Similarly, employee skillsets on dairy farms across NY State are varied. A set of cow-side guides outlining the steps for performing the various ketosis tests were developed to help bridge the skillset gaps among college students and farm employees. Implementing these guides on dairy farms may encourage farm employees of varying cultures and backgrounds to regularly test for ketosis and assess BCS which will improve overall herd health and farm production.