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Tremblay, M.; Kammer, M.; Lange, H.; Plattner, S.; Baumgartner, C.; Stegeman, J. A.; Duda, J.; Mansfeld, R.; Dopfer, D. (2018): Identifying poor metabolic adaptation during early lactation in dairy cows using cluster analysis. In: Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 101, No. 8: pp. 7311-7321
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Currently, cows with poor metabolic adaptation during early lactation, or poor metabolic adaptation syndrome (PMAS), are often identified based on detection of hyperketonemia. Unfortunately, elevated blood ketones do not manifest consistently with indications of PMAS. Expected indicators of PMAS include elevated liver enzymes and bilirubin, decreased rumen fill, reduced rumen contractions, and a decrease in milk production. Cows with PMAS typically are higher producing, older cows that are earlier in lactation and have greater body condition score at the start of lactation. It was our aim to evaluate commonly used measures of metabolic health (input variables) that were available [i.e., blood beta-hydroxybutyrate acid, milk fat: protein ratio, blood nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA)] to characterize PMAS. Bavarian farms (n = 26) with robotic milking systems were enrolled for weekly visits for an average of 6.7 wk. Physical examinations of the cows (5-50 d in milk) were performed by veterinarians during each visit, and blood and milk samples were collected. Resulting data included 790 observations from 312 cows (309 Simmental, 1 Red Holstein, 2 Holstein). Principal component analysis was conducted on the 3 input variables, followed by K-means cluster analysis of the first 2 orthogonal components. The 5 resulting clusters were then ascribed to low, intermediate, or high PMAS classes based on their degree of agreement with expected PMAS indicators and characteristics in comparison with other clusters. Results revealed that PMAS classes were most significantly associated with blood NEFA levels. Next, we evaluated NEFA values that classify observations into appropriate PMAS classes in this data set, which we called separation values. Our resulting NEFA separation values [<0.39 mmol/L (95% confidence limits = 0.360-0.410) to identify low PMAS observations and >= 0.7 mmol/L (95% confidence limits = 0.650-0.775) to identify high PMAS observations] were similar to values determined for Holsteins in conventional milking settings diagnosed with hyperketonemia and clinical symptoms such as anorexia and a reduction in milk yield, as reported in the literature. Future studies evaluating additional clinical and laboratory data, breeds, and milking systems are needed to validate these finding. The aim of future studies would be to build a PMAS prediction model to alert producers of cows needing attention and help evaluate on-farm metabolic health management at the herd level.