5 May 1995

Searching for a way to spot fat cow syndrome

CURRENT interest in a return to feeding concentrates to some dry cows poses a problem for herd managers who are well aware of the need to avoid the metabolic disorders known collectively as fat cow syndrome. How can they identify which animals are protein depleted?

New work at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs Trawsgoed Farm, near Aberystwyth, Dyfed, aims to find a simple method for doing this.

Dr Richard Dewhurst says there is currently no equivalent of body scoring to assess protein reserves, but he hopes there soon will be.

"It is laborious to measure nitrogen balance. Instead we are looking at the use of ultrasound equipment, and measuring mammary secreting mass to indicate protein depletion."

To get animals with low protein reserves, some cattle are being deliberately underfed during the second half of their lactations. These will be used in the search for indicators of low protein levels that farmers can use to spot which cattle require extra dry period feeding.

The same team is also attempting to develop a simple diagnostic test, possibly using a bulk milk sample, for the efficiency of microbial protein production in the rumen. This would allow much more precise protein management than is possible when the metabolisable protein system is used to formulate rations.

"It would be possible to take action to make the rumen work better, or to put DUP in," says Dr Dewhurst, who believes that it is essential to update current rationing models. &#42