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Pre-partum behaviour and intake identify dairy cows at risk for post-partum metritis Huzzey, Juliana Mae

Abstract

Metritis is a disease of particular concern after calving due to its negative effects on the reproductive performance of dairy cows. Previous work has shown that cows at risk for post-partum metritis have lower feeding times in the days before calving. However, the authors did not monitor individual dry matter intake (DMI), a measure that may be more sensitive in the detection of illness, or other behavioural or intake measures such as drinking or social behaviour that may prove to be useful predictors of disease. The objective of this study was to determine which pre-partum measures are most sensitive in predicting post-partum metritis. Feeding and drinking measures were collected from 101 Holstein dairy cows from 2 wks before until 3 wks after calving using an electronic monitoring system. Social behaviour at the feed bunk was assessed from video recordings. Metritis severity was diagnosed based on daily rectal body temperature and vaginal discharge that was assessed every 3 d after calving until d+21. In this study, 12% of cows were classified as severely metritic and 27% as mildly metritic. Feeding time and DMI were best able to identify cows at risk for metritis. Cows that developed severe metritis spent less time feeding and consumed less feed relative to healthy cows 2 wks before any observation of clinical signs of infection. For every 10- min decrease in average daily feeding time during the wk before calving the odds of severe metritis increased by 1.72, and for every 1 kg decrease in DMI during this period, cows were nearly 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder. During the wk before calving cows that were later diagnosed with severe metritis had lower DMI and feeding times during the hours following fresh feed delivery. During this period these cows also engaged in fewer aggressive interactions at the feed bins compared to cows that remained healthy. This research is the first to show that social behaviour may play an important role in transition cow health. Further research is required to determine how management practices should be changed to reduce illness in transition dairy cows.

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