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KEENAN urges farmers to keep herd health centre stage

Image of cows on grass

Feeding experts at KEENAN are investigating the current health status of UK dairy farms to determine whether there is any real opportunity to improve production, profitability, welfare and total carbon footprint — all paramount to the future of farming livelihoods.

Market fluctuation is something the dairy sector has had to contend with for decades. To cope with this reality, we “make hay when the sun shines”. When margins are good, we try to push on. But when margins are poor to absent, we try to rein back production. And this circle of production continues.

But in any market situation and on every farm, good herd health is crucial to productivity, efficiency, profitability, animal welfare, and total carbon footprint. No longer is suboptimal care acceptable or even feasible. Each individual animal and the entire herd must be looked after impeccably for farms to have a place in the future. 

We’re not talking healthy; we’re talking extremely healthy. And we’re not just talking about the clinical cases; we’re also talking about the underlying or less obvious cases.

KEENAN is on a mission to help cows and farmers thrive and to put a stop to the exiting of farmers from the industry. To do this, we want to help make the highest of health standards accomplishable. We believe that cow health has always been, and should always be, the centre stage of all successful farming operations.

We will focus on:

  • The current health status (and costs) on UK dairy farms
  • Understanding how nutrition impacts on cow health
  • Our three nutritional focus areas for better cow health
  • Why choose KEENAN for cow health and performance?· 

The current health status (and costs) on UK dairy farms

According to NMR’s 2023 study, many aspects of UK dairy herd health have progressed significantly over the past couple of decades. But does that mean that the sector now has cow health (and fertility) ‘nailed’? Or is there still opportunity for improvement? That’s the question KEENAN has sought to answer by combining average performance data with recent average costs to help identify the top opportunities.

Key take-homes

  • Retained foetal membranes are the costliest health challenge to treat.
  • Lameness and mastitis are the most prevalent clinical health challenges.
  • Whilst the incidence rate and direct costs associated with milk fever are relatively low, the condition is associated with a higher risk of difficult calving, retained placenta, mastitis, and displaced abomasum.

Important to consider

While you might benchmark yourself against this data and think you’re doing well, it is essential to contemplate what impacts are available from even just incremental improvements. If you were to reduce the number of cases of retained foetal membranes by just two, for instance, that could amount to thousands of pounds a year.

Understanding how nutrition impacts on cow health

Metabolism is the collection of chemical reactions in the body responsible for the conversion of food into energy for maintenance, growth, and reproduction. Metabolism is also fundamentally required by the immune system, a function known as immunometabolism. Whether invasive pathogenic bacteria go on to cause conditions such as metritis, for example, is most likely determined by how efficiently the immune system (largely stemming from within the gut) responds to them.

Immunometabolism is most significant during the transition period from late pregnancy to early postpartum, with vast changes in metabolism and immune function occurring at the onset of lactation. Metabolic disorders such as ketosis, milk fever, grass tetany and downer cow syndrome, all commonly encountered during this period, tend to be precursors for many other diseases and conditions. For example, if a cow gets milk fever, she is considerably more predisposed to conditions like mastitis and infertility.

Lameness is also influenced by nutrition and metabolism. Studies have shown that high-concentrate diets, acidosis, and exposure to mycotoxins can increase the prevalence of ulcers, digital dermatitis, and white line disease.

Health challenges

Nutritional causes

Milk fever

Calcium deficiency in diet around calving

Assisted birth

Cows being too lean or too fat at calving

Retained cleansing

Overfat/fit cows, vitamin and mineral deficiencies


Overfat/fit cows, vitamin and mineral deficiencies


Insufficient energy (negative energy balance)

Displaced abomasum

Excessive concentrate levels during the prepartum period


Excessive concentrate levels, insufficient minerals

Mastitis/High SCC

Mineral deficiencies impacting on immune system

Optimising gut health and reducing the risk of metabolic diseases comes down to three key nutrition and housing factors.

Our three nutritional focus areas for better cow health

One of the major contributors to metabolic issues is inflammation over the transition period. First-calving heifers that are perhaps more shy, over-conditioned cows eating less pre-calving, and cows that have had difficult calvings have the highest inflammation and stress around calving and the greatest incidence of disease afterward. This makes the transition period the most vital to get right.


Rumen health is the basis of gut health and immunity. It is largely dependent on the physical presentation of the feed, i.e., ease of sorting and fibre damage. This impacts on dry matter intakes and rumen fill scores, which are linked to acidosis/SARA in the milking herd and negative energy balance in transition cows.

Here are some feed processing targets to work to:

  1. First and foremost, start with a good-quality forage which is full of valuable nutrition and appealing to eat. This is the foundation to an effective ration.
  2. Balance this forage with other feed ingredients to ensure that the cow has access to adequate levels of energy, protein, starch, and other vital macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients.
  3. Present this carefully balanced diet in an evenly mixed ration that cannot be sorted, ensuring forage fibres are chopped to a precise length for stimulating saliva production, increasing rumination, and optimising rumen pH.


Rumination is vital for breaking down roughage before it reaches the small intestine, and cows will typically ruminate for seven to eight hours of the day. Rumination will drop on average 12 to 24 hours before there are visual signs of a health issue, so it’s a vital indicator of health issues.  

Ensuring cow comfort and ease of access to feed at all times is vital for adequate rumination to take place.Here are some milking-cow comfort targets to work to:

  • Lying time: 14 hours per day*
  • Feed access: 65 cm per cow, with frequent push-ups
  • Water access: 10 cm per cow of clean, fresh water
  • Lighting: >160 lux for 16–18 hours/day*
  • Ventilation: 30 breaths per minute 

*Note that dry cows require different targets, such as lower light levels and more lying time.


Vitamins, minerals, trace elements and feed additives play a vital role in many functions. Any deficiency will compromise enzyme activity and cellular function, so having access to the right supplementation in the right amounts is crucial.




Lameness, hoof health and integrity


Milk production, bone structure, muscle contraction


Synthesis of Vitamin B12, energy metabolism


Fertility, immunity, synthesis of haemoglobin


Hormone production, fertility, cell growth and development


Nervous function, fibre digestion, energy utilisation


Nervous function, lipid and glucose metabolism, reproduction


Bone structure, energy utilisation, rumen function


Immune function, fertility


Maintenance of osmotic pressure, transport of nutrients

Vitamin A

Fertility, immunity, resistance to retained cleansings

Vitamin D

Absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, immunity

Vitamin E

Immune function, retained cleansing, resistance to mastitis


Skin quality, hoof integrity, metabolism, immunity

Top tip: Consider the bioavailability of the mineral; chelated options have proved to be more available to the animal.



Live yeasts

Scavenge oxygen in the rumen, leading to a more hospitable environment for rumen microbes responsible for digestion

Mycotoxin binders

Bind to consumed mycotoxins to prevent absorption through the gut and negative impact on cow health

Rumen buffers

Manage the risk of acidosis associated with low-effective-fibre and high-grain or high-concentrate diets


Contribute to gastrointestinal integrity and stability, aiding in immunity and nutrient utilisation

Top tips:

  • Dead (or “stabilised”) yeast does not have the ability to use up oxygen in the same way live yeast does.
  • Be aware that there are more than 300 types of toxins, and some solutions don’t bind to every type, with penicillium being a common culprit for “evading” binders.

Why choose KEENAN for cow health and performance?

When investing in a diet feeder, all farmers are seeking the same thing: a durable machine that will quickly produce a great, consistent feed mix day after day.

The KEENAN system delivers on this and more. With over 40 years of nutrition-based engineering and huge investments into feeding technology, KEENAN is the nation’s number-one diet feeding system. Best known for its flagship MechFiber machine and the patented ‘mechanical fibre’ TMR produced from it, the KEENAN system was built on the need to optimise cow health and productivity.

The KEENAN system is uniquely and independently certified by the Carbon Trust to increase feed conversion efficiency, improve herd performance and reduce methane production per litre of milk. By delivering a feed that is more easily digestible, the KEENAN system improves rumen efficiency, meaning less energy is wasted into the environment.

What is the KEENAN difference?








A horizontal mixing action utilises gravity to gently tumble and distribute feed ingredients without any ‘dead spots’.

A precise blade configuration ‘scissor-chops’ fibres into precise lengths that promote ‘scratch factor’ in the rumen.

A secondary feed-out auger takes a full-length cross-segment of the feed ration as it rotates in the main auger when feeding out.

All machines are fitted with the InTouch system, made up of a control unit, a mobile app, and a feeding support network.

An ‘open’, evenly mixed ration

Greater rumination and rumen pH

Consistent feed-out, start to finish

A consistent and monitorable mix

Independent research, coupled with sample data from 24,450 dry cows on 277 farms, showcased health and productivity improvements in cows being fed using the KEENAN MechFiber.*



*University of Illinois, 2008; University of Reading, 2008; Colman et al., 2011; Professional Animal Scientist, 27, 505-17

** Subtle changes in rumen conditions had major effects on feed efficiency

KEENAN MechFiber+ offers even better performance

KEENAN customers with healthy herds