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  • Metabolic Disorders in Cows

    A body’s metabolism is the whole range of physical and chemical processes, which involve either breaking down compounds to release energy (catabolic), eg digesting and using food to release energy, or consuming energy to build up compounds (anabolic), eg using food to produce muscle and bone, as animals grow.

    When cow calves down, there is a very quick change in her metabolic state. Over a period of a few days, her energy requirements approximately double. Cows can’t eat enough to completely meet those demands, so enter a period of negative energy balance. This period of metabolic stress is associated with several disorders or diseases, which are therefore called metabolic disorders. These are very common; it is estimated that 30-50% of dairy cows are affected by some form of metabolic or infectious disease around the time of calving (LeBlanc, 2010).

    Metabolic disorders around calving include:

    1. Fatty liver
    2. Ketosis (subclinical)
    3. Ketosis (clinical)
    4. Hypocalcaemia (subclinical)
    5. Hypocalcaemia (clinical) – milk fever
    6. Displaced abomasum
    7. Rumen acidosis (sub-acute)
    8. Rumen acidosis (acute)
    9. Retained foetal membranes
    10. Metritis (and endometritis)
    11. Mastitis
    12. Lameness

    Not only do these conditions occur during the same risk period (around calving), but the risks are interconnected. The presence of one metabolic disorder is associated with increased risk of other disorder(s) affecting the same cow later on. The chart below illustrates these relationships.




    LeBlanc, S. 2010. Monitoring metabolic health of dairy cattle in the transition period. Journal of Reproduction and Development, 56 (Supplement 2010), pp. S29-S35.
    Overton, M.W. 2014. Economic consequences of the vital 90TM days. In: 2014 Cornell Nutrition Conference Proceedings.