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Ketosis: The Double-Edged Sword of Your Highest Yielding Cows

October 24th, 2016

Ketosis: The Double-Edged Sword of Your Highest Yielding Cows

Though dairy farmers genuinely desire their cows to produce as much milk as possible, it often comes with a heavy price. Ketosis, a metabolic disorder in dairy cows, often strikes the highest yielding cows.

Since the complete prevention of ketosis is not possible, early detection and treatment is the best solution we have. 

In order to better understand what causes ketosis, its prevalence on North American dairy farms, and why it is important, we have created this infographic for you.


How Prevalent is Ketosis in North American Dairy Farms?


How Much Milk is Lost to Ketosis in North American Dairy Farms?

  • 440 lb of lost milk in New York Holstein cows

  • 575 lb of lost milk in a California dairy

*All percentages are based on an average of all calving cows (per lactation).

** Duffield at. el., 2009

*** McArt at. el., 2012


How Does Ketosis Impact Your Herd?

  • Ketosis increases the risk of other health disorders, especially when not treated early.

    Treated cows Non-treated cows
      1.6 times more likely develop a displaced abomasum
      2.1 times more likely to be culled
    1.3 times more likely to conceive at first insemination*  







  • It reduces the milk yield (and farmer's revenue) 
    500 to 800 lbs less milk per cow produced for ketotic cows. This is a 100 to $160 drop in income per cow from milk loss alone**.
  • Increased likelihood for culling.


McArt at. el., 2012

*compared to a control group of cows, in 3 out of 4 of tested herds.

**Mimimizing the Risk for Ketosis in Dairy Herds. Extension. October 2014.

What are the Factors that Increase a Cow's Risk of Developing Ketosis?

  • High yield fresh cows 

  • Fat cows (with a high body condition score)
  • Older cows 
  • Cows giving birth to twins
  • Longer dry periods
  • Longer lactation periods

*Source: Daily Fertility

What Causes Ketosis?

Cow and heifer energy requirements practically double immediately after calving.

Cow and heifer energy

*Source: BalchemANH

This change in energy requirements causes elevated levels of ketones in the blood. But ketone level in the blood alone is not an accurate indicator of ketosis. Why not?


Why is Ketosis So Difficult to Detect?

Ketosis is difficult to Detect

Ketosis is traditionally detected through ketone levels in the urine, blood or milk. However, these levels naturally fluctuate over the course of the day, subject to changes in the cow's diet, feeding times, and even simply circadian rhythms. Administering tests several times throughout the day to animals is not practical, generates stress in the animals, and is expensive.

In one study that Afimilk conducted, a group of 18 cows were tested at three different times throughout the day to see how the ketone blood levels changed along the day. The graph below shows that only 2 cows were detected after testing conducted in the morning; whereas in reality 7 cows were found detected in total on that day.

*Source: Schcolnik, 2012


In another study, four individual cows were measured over a four-hour period for ketone level testing. As you can see in the graph below, blood ketone levels fluctuated widely. While the number of ketone bodies in cow 2 nearly dropped by half; the number of ketones in cow 3 nearly doubled.

*Source: Schcolnik, 2012.

Another traditional method for detecting ketosis is by measuring the blood BHB (BHBA) levels in the blood. In a study by Bentley Instruments, BHB blood levels of 54 cows were measured throughout the morning and evening periods. The blood levels varied throughout the day, as you can see in the graph below. Many of the 54 cows had BHB levels of less than 1.0 in the morning that had risen to over 1.5 by the evening.

* Research by Bentley Instruments

What is the Most Accurate Method for Early Detection of Ketosis?

If you want to accurately detect ketosis as soon as possible, you should consider measuring your herd's fat-to-protein measurements in the milk. Watch the 

Want to learn how you can accurately detect ketosis and increase your dairy farm productivity? Read about our Afimilk MPC Milk Meter & AfiLab Milk Analyzer here.

Also, please download the Ketosis: Early detection and treatment solution note. Watch the Ketosis video.


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