12 May 1995

Spot ketosis early and help

check mastitis

OVER half of the cows that experience mastitis in early lactation could have also suffered ketosis.

That is the finding of scientists at Utrecht University, Holland. Both Dutch and UK researchers reason that if they can detect ketosis early, and treat it, they might be able to reduce mastitis incidence.

Ketosis affects over 10% of cows in early lactation, and is caused by a negative energy balance. When a cow has advanced ketosis the vet or herdsperson can detect the sweet smell of acetone on her breath.

But researchers now hope that an "artificial nose" will detect ketosic cows from breath samples with greater reliability than the human nose. This "artificial nose" has been developed by scientists at Southampton and Warwick Universities.

The electronic technologys application in the dairy industry is being investigated by Warwick and Southampton University scientists and the Silsoe Research Institute, Beds, as part of a three-year study funded by the Biological Sciences Research Council and MAFF.

"The aim is to investigate the potential of non-invasive health monitoring of cows," says Silsoes Dr Toby Mottram.

Blood stream idea

He explains that analysing an animals breath should give a good idea of what is in the blood stream without the expense or time delay of blood tests.

"The nose could be a very cheap alternative to metabolic profiling," he says. "When placed in the lip of a feed trough, the equipment might be able to detect ketotic cows from breath samples which could be taken a dozen times a day. If those cows are wearing collar transponders they could then be identified and treated."

The equipment, being tested at ADAS Bridgets Dairy Research Centre, Martyr Worthy, Hants, does not measure the absolute levels of acetone but records the effect the cows breath has on a series of electronic sensors. It compares the results with those pre-recorded from healthy animals.

Silsoe also has plans to examine whether the nose can detect oestrus and if it can be used in a robotic milking parlour to check whether a cows teats are clean.

&#8226 In a separate project led by Robert Sneath, Silsoe is working with Umist, Manchester, to investigate whether the nose can be used to assess nuisance odours from livestock buildings.