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July 15, 2013

XLVets At The Forefront of Ketosis Prevention

‘Prevention is better than cure’ – it’s a phrase that is well known and certainly holds a lot of truth when it comes to farming livestock. That is why in recent years, the focus of veterinary advice offered to farmers from forward thinking vets has been all about herd health and disease prevention measures. Following a recent prevalence survey involving 1,200 cows nationwide, large animal veterinary practice group XLVets say that ketosis – a condition that can have an impact on almost all areas of cow health – should be high on the agenda when developing preventative medicine strategies for dairy farms.

Promoting ‘Excellence In Practice’, the group is dedicated to remaining at the forefront of dairy production medicine by identifying potential problems on farm early and working closely with farmers to implement practical solutions. Farm businesses are constantly changing, so it is the XLVets ethos to make sure that their member practices constantly compile and share information from a wide variety of sources to make sure that they can provide the most appropriate support to help farmers achieve their performance targets.

The Extent Of Sub-Clinical Ketosis

Freshly calved cows are predisposed to developing ketosis as the sudden energy demands of milk production soar above food intake and body fat is mobilised as an energy source. In some cows, production of ketones as a result of this can cause well-recognised clinical signs but it is sub-clinical disease – when ketone levels are elevated but insufficient to cause overt clinical signs – that can cause real lasting damage to the productivity of a cow. As well as decreasing milk production and fertility, an increased risk of metritis, mastitis and displaced abomasum are just a few of the costly conditions that sub-clinical ketosis has proven links with. Production losses and disease related consequential losses due to subclinical ketosis have been estimated at around £200-500 per affected cow.1

The results of the recent survey, co-ordinated by Paddy Gordon, director of XLVets member practice Shepton Vet Group, showed that an average of 20% of dairy cows suffer from sub-clinical ketosis 2-21 days post-calving. The results can be considered representative, with over 1200 cows from 82 farms across the UK sampled in April and May 2013. Typically, 15 cows per farm were tested (more than the recommended 12 cows to ensure confidence in interpretation) using reliable cow-side milk test Ketotest, launched by Elanco last year.

This high prevalence of sub-clinical ketosis, the proven far-reaching effects of the disease and subsequent impact on farm businesses is worrying for Paddy and the other XLVets members. “My experience is that while farmers know what to look out for in terms of clinical ketosis, awareness of sub-clinical ketosis is not as high. This is a concern, because with an average of one in five UK dairy cows affected, health, performance and ultimately profits are going to continue to take a hit if nothing is done,” says Paddy.

Recognising The Problem

All the member practices of the XLVets group are now recommending regular testing for sub-clinical ketosis within dairy herds. As Paddy points out “Waiting until the problem is apparent because fertility is poor or the number of displaced abomasum cases start to creep up is not good enough – we need to be testing dairy herds regularly and doing something about sub-clinical ketosis before it is allowed to quietly wreak its effect.”

Another clear message from the survey was that although prevalence averaged at 20% of newly calved cows, which is lower than the usually cited 30%, individual farm variation was huge. The recommendation is that if 25% or more of the sample group test positive, changes need to be implemented to reverse the trend and prevent knock-on effects. Thirty two of the 82 farms surveyed had a prevalence of over 25%. “This essentially tells us that nearly two out of every five dairy farms are underperforming and need to address sub-clinical ketosis on a herd level,” warns Paddy. “Testing shouldn’t just be a one off event either,” he adds, “Ketosis isn’t like an infectious disease where either a farm has it or not – it is an underlying metabolic condition that will vary according to yield, season, forage quality and husbandry factors.” On-going monitoring is the only way to maintain a current and accurate picture of the situation on each farm and allow the development of pro-active and effective strategies to keep ketosis under control.

Working so closely with farmers, Paddy appreciates the pressures on their time and how important routine is on a dairy farm. “That’s the great thing about the Ketotest – having a test that can be used on routine fertility visits without slowing the usual rhythm and provide almost instantaneous results means that barriers to tackling sub-clinical ketosis are being taken down,” he says. Ketotest results are proven to correlate well with taking blood samples. Some vets may prefer to use cow side blood tests as this gives a chance to assess the cows’ body condition as well. Unlike blood sampling though, the milk test doesn’t require veterinary intervention to perform, relying on a simple to read colour change for results, meaning that farmers can test their animals themselves if they want to.

Planning For Prevention

Although testing is the vital first step in helping to combat sub-clinical ketosis, actually understanding and using the results to implement change is equally important. “Of course farmers want to actively reduce disease that affects productivity on their farm and many understand that how a cow is fed affects this. There are common ‘pinch points’ that almost all dairy farmers experience though – periods of low or high calving rates have a knock on effect on ration intake and feed space for example,” Paddy says. What he hopes encouraging farmers to test for ketosis will do is minimise the impact of these unavoidable compounding factors by allowing them to recognise the problem early and seek advice.

Although still too soon to see the full results of the advice given to the farms involved in the survey, Paddy says the exercise has only strengthened his belief that ketosis testing should be part of all dairy farm herd health plans. “On one farm, the process of testing and analysing the results identified previously unrecognised issues with a whole range of things – feed space, forage quality and the body condition score of individual cows. That may sound a bit depressing but the farmer involved was actually pleased because we were able to come up with a plan – he could actually DO something that was going to have a significant positive effect on his bottom line and the welfare of his cows.” There’s also a new solution for ketosis with the launch of Kexxtone®, an intraruminal bolus, with zero day milk and meat withdrawal, that increases energy delivery in the form of glucose, which may be considered by your vet for individual high risk cows.

Proving once again that they are leading the way in a matter that potentially affects all dairy farms, XLVets can now offer regular ketosis testing as part of their dairy herd health plans. With the aim of making testing as accessible as possible, they are also making Ketotest available directly to farmers, nutritionists and farm consultants. To make sure that each test yields useful information, it is essential to discuss results with your vet – and farmers are encouraged to use the monitoring sheets provided by Elanco that accompany the test.

For more information about XL Vets, visit www.xlvets.co.uk.