Lameness and effect on cow behaviour

Lameness is a costly disease for dairy farmers as it impacts yield, fertility and longevity. And there is a clear link between cow behaviour and (moderate) lameness. Learning more about this relationship helps in earlier detection of the problem. 

Lameness has a negative effect on the economic viability of farms because it results in reduced productivity Greene et al., 2002) and reproductive performance (Sogstad et al., 2006). Moreover, lameness has severe negative consequences for animal welfare (Whay et al., 2003). Besides changes in gait, lameness leads to other changes in cow behaviour. In lame dairy cows, recent studies found, for example, reduced locomotor activity (Thorup et al., 2015), longer lying duration (Solano et al., 2016), and reduced usage of an automated grooming brush (Mandel et al., 2018) as compared with non-lame cows. However, most studies grouped cows of different lameness scores, whereas less is known about lameness-induced behavioural changes in moderately lame cows specifically.

Lame cows spend 45 minutes more lying

Swiss researchers delved deeper into the behaviour changes when cow are (moderately) lame and reported their findings in the Journal of Dairy Science. The aim of this study was to identify behavioural variables that have the potential to be used as indicators for automatic early lameness detection. Therefore, the behaviour of non-lame and moderately lame cows was compared on 17 Swiss dairy farms during 2 data collection periods of 48-hours each, separated by an interval of 6 to 10 weeks. The researchers found that moderate lameness influenced lying-, activity-, and eating behaviours and the milking order in lactating dairy cows. Lying for example was increased with 45 minutes per day. Eating time and the number of eating chews were reduced in moderately lame cows (also found by Beer et al. (2016)). In accordance with Palmer et al. (2012)), the Swiss researcher suggest that lame cows spent less time eating to reduce the duration of standing on painful limbs or feet. Bareille et al. (2003)) found that lame cows have a lower total feed intake than non-lame cows, which may be connected with a poorer BCS in lame cows (Walker et al., 2008, Bicalho et al., 2009). The number of visits to the brush and concentrate feeder was lower in moderately lame compared with non-lame cows. No or little effect of moderate lameness was found on several rumination variables and on the probability of concentrate leftovers. Because lameness is such a costly and painful disease, early detection of this condition is of utmost importance, the researchers address. It allows early intervention and contributes to the prevention of more severe claw disorders, which cause almost 3 times higher costs than mild claw disorders (Charfeddine and Pérez-Cabal, 2017).

Early detection of all diseases is key

Next to lameness, cows can suffer from some other health problems. Prevention is key and can save the farmer a lot of money and prevents loss of production. Technology can help dairy farmers to pinpoint the cows that are showing certain abnormal patterns in behaviour that can be linked to certain diseases. IDA, developed by Connecterra, is a combination of a sensor on the cow that detects cow behaviour. The bahvourial data, inked with the farm data and the farmer’s feedback, generates accurate and valuable insights for the farmer. IDA has been shown to detect animal diseases such as milk fever, ketosis and mastitis up to 2 days earlier than a farmer notices a health problem himself. The farmer receives in the IDA app an insight saying that cow #xyz has a possible health problem, based on the cow behaviour patterns. The farmer can hence check on her proactively and the ‘health problem cow’ can be treated earlier or can be isolated from the herd, to prevent that problems become more severe and to give her a bit more attention. Experiences from the field show that this way IDA can lower veterinary costs by 20-25%. Better for the cow and better for the farmer. 

By Emmy Koeleman, Global Market Communications Manager at Connecterra.