Canadian researchers have found some interesting evidence that incomplete milking for the first five days after calving could lower a cow’s risk of ketosis.

The research showed that not milking out fresh cows completely lowered the amount of NEFA (nonesterified fatty acid) and BHBA (β-hydroxybutyrate) in the blood. NEFA and BHBA are indicators of the degree of negative energy balance of a cow.

During the experiment, cows were milked twice a day, with researchers collecting 6 liters of milk on day one, 8 liters on day two, 10 liters on day three, 12 liters on day four, and 14 liters on day five. After five days postpartum, the cows were milked out completely twice a day for the rest of the study period.

Milk taken from the cows milked incompletely through day five was 35 percent of the amount of milk taken from the control cows, but there was no effect of incomplete milking on overall milk production for the lactation.

The study found concentrations of NEFA and BHBA were lower for the incompletely milked cows compared to control cows until 21 days in milk.

Based on BHBA concentrations, the percentage of cows diagnosed with clinical ketosis was much lower for the incompletely milked group compared to control cows. In fact, 6 percent (1 out of 16) of cows in the incompletely milked group met the criteria for clinical ketosis compared to 47 percent (7 out of 15) of cows in the control treatment.

The research is from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Dairy Research and Development Centre and the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada. It was published in the November 2012 Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 95, pages 6503-6512. Read the abstract.

Abigail Griffith, a Virginia Tech graduate student, explains more in the March 2013 Virginia Dairy Pipeline.