Feeding Behaviour and Early Detection of Diseases (2010)

Infectious and metabolic diseases can result in decreased milk production, poor reproductive performance, and increased culling of dairy cows. Early identification of diseases is beneficial to producers — the sooner a disease is identified, the sooner it can be treated, and early treatment decreases the negative effects of disease on both the cow’s welfare and the producer’s bottom line. Monitoring social feeding behaviour has proven useful in the early identification of sick cattle.

Studies on feedlot cattle have shown that sick animals can be identified by the fact that they spend less time at the feed bunk. These reduced feeding times can be measured using a computer, which monitors how much time each animal spends at the feed bunk. What is most interesting is that these changes are evident days before experienced stockmen identify the animals as ill based on clinical signs of disease.

UBC researchers are working to apply this technology to dairy cattle. Cows are especially prone to infectious and metabolic diseases during the transition period, which covers the time period 3 weeks before to 3 weeks after calving. Metritis is a uterine infection that is common after calving, is expensive to treat, and can severely impair reproductive performance. A series of UBC studies were performed to compare the behaviour of cows that develop metritis with cows that remain healthy.

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