Simple and quick tests that measure ketone levels in dairy cows are allowing farmers to act promptly with interventions to protect milk yields and herd performance.
Subclinical ketosis can’t be picked up visually but can be quickly diagnosed with a handheld electronic cow-side meter or milk test strips.
Electronic systems can cost as little as £75 and they establish the precise level of ketosis in each cow, allowing the most appropriate treatment strategy to be targeted at individual animals.
Below we take a look at some of the devices on the market.
A dual ketone and glucose meter.
How it works
A 1.2μl sample of blood is drawn from the cow’s tail with a syringe and is dropped on to a test strip.
This strip is inserted into the meter and the blood ketone or beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB) level appears on the screen.
- Large bold screen for easy viewing
- Results are available within 10 seconds
- Memory storage for 450 blood glucose and ketone records, with result type, date and time
- Automatic shutoff
- Battery lasts for 3,000 tests
- Test strips are specifically calibrated for bovine blood
- Affordable for routine monitoring
- CentriVet meter: £18 + VAT
- Bovine ketone test strips (25): £37 + VAT
- Ketone control solution: £4.20
- 21G lancets for blood testing (50): £5
Rapid Labs is running an introductory offer where customers can receive a free meter when they buy a pack of ketone test strips.
GlucoRx Cow ketone meter
This blood meter was the first to be designed specifically for cows
How it works
Blood is drawn from the cow’s tail and applied to the test strip until the confirmation window is completely full – a 7μl sample is required for each test.
The meter automatically counts down to zero and the cow’s ketone test result appears on the screen.
Each container of test strips expires within three months of opening.
- The result is available within five seconds
- The meter is compact and weighs just 45.4g
- Data can be downloaded and analysed
- Powered by 1 AAA battery
- Automatic switch-off when the test strip is removed.
- Can store the 450 most recent blood ketone test results with the date and time.
- When the memory is full the oldest results are deleted
- GlucoRx Cow ketosis detecting ketone meter: £47.99 + VAT
- GlucoRx Cow ketone strips: £71.99 + VAT
A milk-dip test that uses colour-graded dipsticks to measure the levels of ketones in milk.
How it works
A milk test strip is placed into a sample of milk and the colour change indicates the cow’s status – the deeper the purple, the higher the concentration of ketones and the greater the likelihood of ketosis.
Each test pot contains 20 strips and a colour chart.
This test is recommended for use on cows within two to 21 days of calving.
- Simple to use
- Result is available within 60 seconds
- Good correlation of results when compared with laboratory tests using blood samples from the same animal
- £29.31 + VAT for 20 strips
Freestyle Optium Neo meter
A blood glucose and ketone monitoring system designed for use with diabetic human patients, but after ketone strips were produced for use with the device, it has been widely adopted by vets and dairy farmers to monitor ketones in cattle.
How it works
A spot of blood is placed on a strip which is then inserted into the machine.
The measurement is given 10 seconds later
If used in cold conditions the meter and test strips must be kept warm
- Simple icon-driven menus
- Stores up to 1,000 tests
- Has a 30-second sample reapplication time
- Can also measure blood glucose
- Cheap and readily available from pharmacies and veterinary supply companies
- Widely evaluated by vets who have found it highly accurate for testing dairy cow blood
- large, high-contrast display is easy to read
- Testing strips are individually foil-wrapped to minimise contamination
- Meter: £15.70 inc VAT
- Ketone strips (10): £14.79 inc VAT
Available from Amazon, pharmacies and veterinary practices
Tips for ketosis testing
Carmarthenshire vet David Staak gives advice on using meters to measure beta hydroxybutyrate (BHBs) and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs), to diagnose if late pregnant cows and early lactation cows are in a state of negative energy balance.
- When to sample: At 4-20 days post-calving.
- Reading results: >1.2 millimoles (mmol)/litre is an indication of ketosis.
- How many cows to sample: Either all cows or a group of at least 12. Individual sick cows that are not performing or are off their feed can also be assessed to determine their ketone levels.
- Targets: No more than 10-20% of the herd should be ketotic at any one stage, but ideally aim for less than 10%. Herds which have an elevated ketone incidence rate of more than 10% will typically also have a higher rate of displaced abomasums. If more than 20% of cows are ketotic then it would be wise to reassess transition cow management including dry matter intake, stocking density, trough space, the energy density of the ration, and the early lactation diet.