Nov. 1 2012 08:56 AM

Most medium and large sized herds experience transition period disorders. Activity monitoring could help detect disease sooner.

A smooth transition out of the dry period is essential for cows to achieve optimum health and adequate milk production in their successive lactation. Oftentimes, though, this period is fraught with metabolic disorders we must help the cow overcome before she can hit her stride. "Cows that are ill will change their activity compared to normal herdmates," noted Christina Petersson-Wolfe, with Virginia Tech, at the Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium held last week in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Petersson and colleagues set out to utilize activity measures in combination with prepartum NEFA (nonesterified fatty acid) concentrations and postpartum BHBA concentrations to identify cows at risk for naturally occurring postpartum diseases. In the study, 216 cows were enrolled three weeks prior to calving and blood was collected once a week until parturition. Activity data, including rest bouts, duration, time and average daily steps, was collected through 30 days postcalving. A disease was eligible if more than 10 cows experienced it; dystocia, subclinical ketosis, mastitis and milk fever met this criterion.

On Day 0, cows with dystocia had elevated rest bouts compared to cows that did not have a difficult birth (13.7 bouts versus 10.5). For cattle that would experience subclinical ketosis, NEFA levels rose in the days prior to diagnosis and were positively associated with the number of rest bouts from 3 to 7 days before being diagnosed. The same relationship was seen with rest duration 4 to 5 days before diagnosis. Cows with subclinical ketosis also took fewer steps in a day compared to healthy cattle (4,467.9 versus 5,559.2 steps). For each unit rise in NEFA, a cow was 6.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with subclinical ketosis after calving.

Five days prior to a clinical mastitis incidence, rest time rose for infected cows, while the number of steps taken was significantly reduced. Yet, in the days before being diagnosed, rest time dropped for animals that would develop mastitis. These cows also had longer rest durations 5 days before diagnosis.

For milk fever, there were more rest bouts on the day before being diagnosed.
Three days later, rest duration for diseased animals was significantly higher than control cattle. Resting time and duration were also impacted with disease incidence and NEFA concentrations.

Activity of cows that did not experience a disease state was retrospectively compared to those that did have one of the above-mentioned diseases. Compared to healthy herdmates activity was altered in cows that became ill. Petersson suggests that daily monitoring of cattle activity after calving may allow for early intervention to alleviate the lasting effects associated with transition period disease.

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The author , Amanda Smith, was an associate editor and is an animal science graduate of Cornell University. Smith covers feeding, milk quality and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. She grew up on a Medina, N.Y., dairy, and interned at a 1,700-cow western New York dairy, a large New York calf and heifer farm, and studied in New Zealand for one semester.