January 2023

Serum and liver samples from 35, 2-year-old dairy heifers that had fractured one or both humeri post-calving between July and December 2019 were submitted to a diagnostic laboratory for analysis. Serum samples were analysed for albumin, β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), creatinine, Ca, Mg, phosphate, non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), and serum Cu concentration. Liver samples were analysed for liver Cu concentration. Data were compared to published reference intervals. Data values for heifers that prior to fracture had grazed fodder beet were also compared to values for those that had grazed pasture. Sixty-nine percent of heifers with humeral fracture had serum creatinine concentrations below the lower value of the reference range (55–130 µmol/L). In 3/32 (9%) heifers, serum NEFA concentrations were increased above the reference value indicating body fat mobilisation (≥1.2 mmol/L for peri-partum cows) and in 20/35 (57%) heifers BHB serum concentrations were above the reference value indicating subclinical ketosis (≥1.1 mmol/L for peri-partum cows). In 24/35 (69%) heifers, liver Cu concentration was low (≤ 44 µmol/kg) or marginal (45–94 µmol/kg). The concentration of Cu in serum was low (≤ 4.5 µmol/L) in 2/33 (6%) heifers and marginal (4.6–7.9 µmol/L) in 5/33 (15%) heifers. There was moderate positive correlation between the logged concentrations of Cu in paired liver and serum samples, r(31) = 0.43; (95% CI = 0.1–0.79; p = 0.014). One heifer had a serum phosphate concentration below the lower limit of the reference range (< 1.10 mmol/L). For all heifers, the concentrations of albumin, Ca, and Mg in serum were within the reference intervals (23–38 g/L, 2.00–2.60 mmol/L, and 0.49–1.15 mmol/L respectively). Over winter, 15/35 (43%) heifers grazed predominantly pasture, 14/35 (40%) grazed fodder beet and 6/35 (17%) had a mixed diet. In some of these heifers with humeral fractures, there was evidence for protein and/or energy malnutrition in the form of elevated NEFA and BHB concentrations and low creatinine concentrations in serum. Liver Cu concentrations were also reduced in most affected heifers. However, the absence of a control group means it is not possible to determine if these are risk factors for fracture or features common to all periparturient heifers. Clinical trials and molecular studies are needed to determine the true contribution of Cu and protein-energy metabolism to the pathogenesis of spontaneous humeral fractures in dairy heifers.

A.Wehrle-Martinez*, K. Dittmer, P. Back, C. Rogers, K. Lawrence
New Zealand Vet J
Vol. 71, No. 1, pp. 37-41

* School of Veterinary Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand