Development of a subacute ruminal acidosis risk score and its prediction using milk mid-infrared spectra in early-lactation cows
A routine monitoring for SARA on the individual level could support the minimization of economic losses and the ensuring of animal welfare in dairy cows. The objectives of this study were (1) to develop a SARA risk score (SRS) by combining information from different data acquisition systems to generate an integrative indicator trait, (2) the investigation of associations of the SRS with feed analysis data, blood characteristics, performance data, and milk composition, including the fatty acid (FA) profile, (3) the development of a milk mid-infrared (MIR) spectra-based prediction equation for this novel reference trait SRS, and (4) its application to an external data set consisting of MIR data of test day records to investigate the association between the MIR-based predictions of the SRS and the milk FA profile. The primary data set, which was used for the objectives (1) to (3), consisted of data collected from 10 commercial farms with a total of 100 Holstein cows in early lactation. The data comprised barn climate parameters, pH and temperature logging from intrareticular measurement boluses, as well as jaw movement and locomotion behavior recordings of noseband-sensor halters and pedometers. Further sampling and data collection included feed samples, blood samples, milk performance, and milk samples, whereof the latter were used to get the milk MIR spectra and to estimate the main milk components, the milk FA profile, and the lactoferrin content. Because all measurements were characterized by different temporal resolutions, the data preparation consisted of an aggregation into values on a daily basis and merging it into one data set. For the development of the SRS, a total of 7 traits were selected, which were derived from measurements of pH and temperature in the reticulum, chewing behavior, and milk yield. After adjustment for fixed effects and standardization, these 7 traits were combined into the SRS using a linear combination and directional weights based on current knowledge derived from literature studies. The secondary data set was used for objective (4) and consisted of test day records of the entire herds, including performance data, milk MIR spectra and MIR-predicted FA. At farm level, it could be shown that diets with higher proportions of concentrated feed resulted in both lower daily mean pH and higher SRS values. On the individual level, an increased SRS could be associated with a modified FA profile (e.g., lower levels of short- and medium-chain FA, higher levels of C17:0, odd- and branched-chain FA). Furthermore, a milk MIR-based partial least squares regression model with a moderate predictability was established for the SRS. This work provides the basis for the development of routine SARA monitoring and demonstrates the high potential of milk composition-based assessment of the health status of lactating cows.