Measures of bone mineral content in mature dairy cows

B. E. Keene, K. F. Knowlton, M. L. McGilliard, L. A. Lawrence, S. M. Nickols-Richardson, J. H. Wilson, A. M. Rutledge, L. R. McDowell, M. E. Van Amburgh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objectives of this investigation were to assess the relationship between chemical measures and imaging estimates (radiographic photometry and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) of bone mineral content in dairy cows and to evaluate the effects of parity, stage of lactation, and site of measurement (fused third and fourth metacarpal bone vs. caudal vertebrae 14 and 15) on bone mineral content. In a preliminary study, the caudal vertebrae were excised from 33 cows following slaughter. Samples were analyzed by radiographic photometry and then analyzed for mineral content chemically. In a second experiment, the caudal vertebrae and right front metacarpal (sample pairs) were excised from 107 Holstein cull cows following slaughter. Parity and days in milk (DIM) of the donor animals were obtained for 43 pairs of samples. Samples were grouped by parity (1, 2, 3, and ≥4) stage of lactation (Stage 1: <90 DIM, Stage 2: 90 to 150 DIM, Stage 3: 151 to 250 DIM, and Stage 4: >250 DIM). Samples were analyzed by radiographic photometry and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry and then analyzed for mineral content chemically. In both experiments, the relationship between mineral content estimated via the imaging techniques and mineral content measured chemically was poor, likely because of the relative maturity of animals in the sample set and lack of variation in mineral content. Ash content was higher in the metacarpal than in the caudal vertebrae, as were concentrations of Mg (expressed as a proportion of bone ash). No effects of stage of lactation were observed on bone mineral in the caudal vertebrae, but in the metacarpal, P content (proportion of total mineral) was highest in second lactation cows. Total bone mineral content (ash) was not affected by parity in the metacarpal or caudal vertebra, but Ca and P content of the metacarpal increased with parity. Noninvasive imaging techniques are not sufficiently sensitive to detect changes in mineral content or composition of mature cows, and only modest changes in bone mineral were observed with stage of lactation and parity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3816-3825
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Bone mineral content
  • Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry
  • Radiographic photometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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