Firstly, to define, in dairy cows in the first 5 weeks post-calving fed a predominantly pasture-based diet, cut-points of concentrations of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA) in blood, above which there were associations with purulent vaginal discharge (PVD), reduced pregnancy rates (PR) and decreased milk production, in order to better define subclinical ketosis (SCK) in such cattle; and secondly, to determine the prevalence, incidence and risk factors for SCK.
An observational field study was conducted in 565 cows from 15 spring-calving and predominantly pasture-fed dairy herds in two regions of New Zealand during the 2010- 2011 dairy season. Within each herd, a cohort of randomly selected cows (approximately 40 per herd) was blood sampled to determine concentrations of BHBA on six occasions at weekly intervals starting within 5 days of calving. The key outcome variables were the presence/absence of PVD at 5 weeks post-calving, PR after 6 weeks (6-week PR) and after the completion of the breeding season (final PR), and mean daily milk solids production.
Two cut-points for defining SCK were identified: firstly concentration of BHBA in blood≥1.2 mmol/L within 5 days post-calving, which was associated with an increased diagnosis of PVD (24 vs. 8%); and secondly concentration of BHBA in blood≥1.2 mmol/L at any stage within 5 weeks post-calving, which was associated with decreased 6-week PR (78 vs. 85%). The mean herd-level incidence of SCK within 5 weeks post-calving was 68 (min 12; max 100)% and large variations existed between herds in peak prevalence of SCK and the interval post-calving at which such peaks occurred. Cows>8 years of age and cows losing body condition were at increased risk of SCK within 5 weeks of calving.
Cows with concentration of BHBA in blood≥1.2 mmol/L in early lactation had a higher risk of PVD and lower 6-week PR. Cow and herd-level prevalence of SCK varied widely in early lactation.
Subclinical ketosis is common and is significantly associated with reproductive performance in mainly pasture-fed New Zealand dairy cattle. Controlling SCK may therefore result in improvements in herd reproductive performance. However considerable variation exists among herds in the incidence of SCK and in the timing of peak prevalence which means that herd-specific monitoring programmes are required to define herd SCK status accurately.