Ketone testing helps reduce fresh cow problems on Monmouth farm
Oli Partridge believes incorporating ketone testing into routine fresh cow checks enables him to pick up and treat problems early and reduces the risk of cows developing DAs.
"I know I'd have more DAs if I didn't ketone test... Often if I get a high ketone reading and get on it early, it prevents a lot more problems," he says.
Ketones are a useful indicator of whether a cow is in severe negative energy balance. Oli has been ketone testing for some time, however the benefits have really come to the fore in the last 12 months as the farm has battled with cow body condition. Last year the Partridges decided to feed one, rather than two rations to the milkers. However, with fertility not quite as good as the team would have liked, it resulted in some cows becoming over conditioned.
These fat cows are more likely to lose weight post calving and go into extreme negative energy balance, leading to ketosis and diseases such as DAs and metritis. Oli has noticed a distinct pattern in body condition and ketone test results.
"Often I see fat cows coming through with high ketones so they need to be managed further to avoid DAs," he says.
Oli runs 370 Holsteins in partnership with his brother Ed at Lower Buckholt Farm, Monmouth. Cows yield 10,700 litres a cow a year and are dry for six weeks. Far off drys are managed at grass with close ups housed three weeks before calving on sand. Transition cows are rationed by EBVC's Richard Cooper and receive a partial DCAB diet of maize, grass, chopped straw and a Barbican dry cow meal plus magnesium chloride.
Fresh cow checks are carried out every Monday and Friday. This includes monitoring temperatures, carrying out vaginal checks and blood ketone testing five days post-calving.
Following training by the farm's vet, Oli takes a blood sample from the tail, which is then tested using a cow side ketone monitor, which produces a digital display reading. Cows that test 1-1.4mmol/L will be written on a white board and rechecked the following Monday or Friday.
Those that test 1.4mmol/L or over are drenched with propylene glycol for three consecutive days and re-tested 48 hours after the initial test. 80% of the time this will rectify the problem. However, if no reduction is seen after five days, the cow will be pumped with water, an energy and electrolyte sachet plus propylene glycol and possibly injected with a vitamin injection.
Oli says often it would have been impossible to identify these at risk cows without ketone testing.
"If you get a high ketone score, most of the time, they're not clinically ketotic…These cows are quite subtle when they're picked up, but they would develop into ketotic cows or DAs," he says.
At the same time as testing, the Partridges are also working hard to prevent cows from becoming over conditioned in the future. This includes:
- Regular body condition scoring
- Running low yielders at grass
- Moving over conditioned cows from the 'high' group to the 'low' group so they are pushed harder
- Introducing the Cogent Precision programme to help drive fertility and keep cows fresher
Ketone meters and testing strips are available to farmers and vets through the EBVC office. To find out more, contact us.