Simmental cow portrait

Drenching gluconeogenic precursors during transition impacts profitability

Alvaro Garcia

Healthy, productive cows are the cornerstone of profitable dairy farms, and it is the adequate management during the transition period that defines the overall lactational response and health of dairy cows. Changes happening during this period are the result of body changes, shifting hormonal balances, and nutrient requirements.

Hormonal changes during this period reduce appetite, which is combined with the fetus partially occupying the room previously destined to the pre-stomachs. The sudden onset of lactation right after calving leads to drastic changes in nutritional demands particularly to supply nutrients for colostrum and milk synthesis. All these changes result in the need of the cow to mobilize body reserves to account for the reduced nutrient intake.

From a biological response perspective, it is the mobilization of body fat stores that is the most impactful physiological change in the dairy cow. The appearance in blood of non-esterified fatty acids and subsequently beta-hydroxybutyrate are consequences of this mobilization. Excessive ketone bodies in body fluids, reflect this degree of fat catabolism, and contribute to reduced appetite and decreased milk yield.

Negative effects of ketosis

When ketone bodies concentration in blood exceed certain limits both subclinical and the clinical ketosis can manifest in cattle. One approach to improve this condition has been to artificially supplement gluconeogenic precursors to provide energy, without the need by the animal to mobilize fat excessively. It has been demonstrated that these precursors stimulate gluconeogenesis, increase plasma glucose, and decrease lipolysis.

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Laboratory, sample collection and analyses

Serum fatty acids help detect ketosis pre-calving

Alvaro Garcia

High producing dairy cows in early lactation are generally in negative energy balance and prone to develop ketosis. Their reduced appetite during the transition period challenges their ability to fulfill their nutrient requirements for milk production. The severity of this difference will depend on the cow’s genetic potential for milk production, the adequacy of the diet, feed and herd management practices, and the environment.

One of the most apparent consequences is the mobilization of body fat. Increases in plasma concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) during this period has been vastly reported in the scientific literature. This is usually constituted of a mix of different NEFAs released into the plasma as a result of lipolysis. Ketosis is a frequent metabolic disorder that can result from this fat mobilization, characterized by high levels of NEFAs and ketone bodies. Prevalence of both the subclinical and the clinical forms are frequent around the world resulting in increased treatment costs, and losses in production and animals.

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Feeding behavior and agonistic interactions at the feed bunk affect ketosis in dairy cows

Alvaro Garcia

The transition period is challenging for lactating dairy cows. Many ailments pop-up of metabolic as well as infectious origin result of increased stress/reduced defenses, and sudden increased body demands for nutrients. One frequent problem in high producing, over conditioned cows is ketosis. According to US dairy producers, ketosis is the top metabolic problem in dairy cows (APHIS, 2014).

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Monitoring ketosis at milk-test day. Is this accurate?

Monitoring ketosis at milk-test day. Is this accurate?

Fernando Díaz

Subclinical ketosis is characterized by elevated levels of ketone bodies in blood, and it is one of the most common metabolic disorders in dairy cows during early lactation. Cows with ketosis reduce their dry matter intake and are more prone to develop other diseases such as metritis, and displacement of abomasum. Moreover, they decrease production and reproduction performance during the lactation. Therefore, careful monitoring of ketosis in dairy cows is vital for keeping cow health and productivity.

Ketosis is measured by determining the level of β-hydroxybutyrate, a ketone body, in blood, urine or milk either in the laboratory or using cow-side ketosis test in the farm. Recently, β-hydroxybutyrate levels are being measured in milk samples collected from routine Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) visits using infrared testing.

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