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Early detection of ketosis can provide invaluable data

Early detection of ketosis can provide dairy farmers with invaluable data to improve their cattle’s health and productivity. 

In a health monitoring program, a cow’s ketone levels can be measured in milk, blood or urine samples weekly for two to three weeks post-calving. Advancements in milking systems are incorporating ketone measurement into the milking routine and may offer more opportunities for insights into the disease.

Khaled Gohary, a recent PhD graduate in Population Medicine, is working with milking equipment manufacturer DeLaval and the University of Guelph to study DeLaval’s Herd Navigator herd management system. Gohary is completing the research through a Mitacs Accelerate internship, funded in partnership with DeLaval Canada. With Mitacs Accelerate support, postdoctoral fellows apply their specialized expertise to business-related research challenges, spending half their time working with the industry partner and the remainder at the university advancing the research under the guidance of a faculty supervisor. Gohary’s supervisor is Dr. Stephen LeBlanc, Population Medicine.

Herd Navigator measures key health indicators related to ketosis, mastitis, reproductive performance, and nutrition. The Herd Navigator system can sample a cow’s milk during milking and, based on a mathematical risk assessment for each cow, determine which indicators will be measured at a particular milking, taking into account the cow’s stage of lactation, reproductive status, and recent test results.

The system allows for daily sampling and provides a greater scope of monitoring and interpretation than is practical with conventional methods. Gohary’s research will focus on gaining new insights into the patterns and impacts of ketosis and development of strategies for early response to ketosis. Cows with ketosis are at risk of developing other diseases, such as displaced abomasum and metritis which affect both health and productivity. “Can we use this information to analyze the pattern of disease?” he says. “How long do animals stay ill? We can look at one day of higher level ketones versus three days and relate that to their milk production.”

Gohary completed his DVM in Egypt and a herd health residency at University of California and defended his PhD at OVC late last year. He began the Mitacs Fellowship in April 2014 and is now in the process of collecting data from many of the 20-plus herds using this technology in Canada.

Cows will still be treated conventionally when diagnosed, but Gohary’s research may also offer insight into treatment. Next steps will include a clinical trial in spring 2015 to look at ketosis treatment. “If we start treatment earlier, is that intervention helpful to cows?” he adds.

The Herd Navigator system also measures progesterone which indicates pregnancy status and ovarian activity. Future research could also analyze ketone patterns to see if high ketone levels affect progesterone levels after calving and the cow’s ability to get pregnant.

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