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Feeding behaviour identifies dairy cows at risk for metritis Urton, Geoffrey D. G.

Abstract

Dairy cows experience a high incidence of disease in the weeks immediately after calving, but early and accurate diagnosis remains a challenge. Cows suffering from metritis, one common disease after calving, exhibit reduced milk yield and reproductive performance. However, afflicted cows show few overt signs of illness and frequently go unnoticed in the absence of veterinary examination. To determine if changes in feeding behaviour could be used in the identification of animals at risk for metritis, attendance at the feed alley was monitored continuously for 26 Holstein cows during the transition period, beginning 2 weeks before and ending 3 weeks after calving. Every 3±1 d cows were diagnosed for metritis based on rectal body temperature and condition of vaginal discharge. Over the 3 weeks of observations after calving, 69% of cows showed some signs of metritis. These cows spent on average 22 min/d less time at the feed alley during the transition period than did non-metritic cows. For every 10-min decrease in average daily feeding time, cows were twice as likely to be diagnosed with metritis. A threshold of 75 min of average daily feeding time was 89% sensitive and 62% specific for detection of acute metritis. In conclusion, reduced time at the feeder can be used to identify dairy cows at risk for metritis. More research is required to determine how soon before calving at-risk cows can be identified, and if these behavioural differences can also be used in the early diagnosis of other diseases.

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