Behavioral changes associated with fever in transition dairy cows

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Source: Journal of Dairy Science

ABSTRACT

Dairy cows are often diagnosed with fever without showing clinical symptoms of disease. The aim of this study was to investigate changes in feeding, social, and lying behaviors of cows with fever but without clinical disease, as compared with healthy cows. After parturition, dairy cows of mixed parities were housed in a dynamic group of 20. In the freestall pen, cows had access to 12 electronic feed bins, 2 electronic water bins, and 24 lying stalls. Feeding and social behaviors were recorded using the electronic feed bins, and lying behaviors were measured using electronic data loggers attached to the cow. Rectal body temperature was assessed on a daily basis, and fever defined as a body temperature >39.5°C. All cows were examined for metritis every third day after calving, and all other diseases (e.g., mastitis, ketosis) were diagnosed as per farm protocol. Cows with multiple days of fever (n = 8) and cows with 1 d of fever (n = 18) that were not diagnosed with a clinical disease were compared with a matched sample of healthy cows (i.e., cows that were not clinically ill and never had a fever recorded) of the same parity (categorized as primiparous vs. multiparous). Feeding, social, and lying behaviors were compared for the first 2 d of fever in cows with multiple days of fever, and the day of fever in cows with 1 d of fever. Cows of both fever groups spent less time feeding compared with controls (135 vs. 181 ± 7.6 min/d for multiple fever days, and 158 vs. 185 ± 9.7 min/d for 1 d of fever). Cows with 1 d of fever ate at a faster rate (109 vs. 91 ± 5 g/min) and had a lower number of replacements at the feed bunk (actor replacements: 9.7 vs. 14.6 ± 1.7 no./d; reactor replacements: 11.1 vs. 15.9 ± 1.6 no./d) compared with healthy controls. Overall, cows with fever showed behavioral changes such as decreased feeding time that are consistent with sickness responses described in other species.