Postpartum disease and disorders in dairy cows may be associated with measurable changes in periparturient physical activity and metabolic profiles

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Source: American Dairy Science Association

Postpartum disease and disorders may pose a threat to dairy cows, negatively affecting culling, lactation, and reproductive performance. Approximately one-third of dairy cows have at least one clinical disease (e.g., metritis, mastitis, digestive issues, respiratory problems) during the first three weeks of lactation. Transition from pregnancy to lactation poses the greatest risk for culling or even death in dairy cows. In an article appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science, scientists from Kansas State University made it their objective to characterize associations between periparturient disease and multiple physiological indicators of cow status in transition dairy cows.

The authors assessed ovarian activity, metabolic and production traits, and activity-recorded physical traits of 160 postpartum diseased and healthy dairy cows. Cows were fit with activity monitor ear tags during mid-gestation to monitor ear skin temperature, eating, rumination, and activity. Routine daily monitoring of close-up dry cows and late-gestation heifers took place in addition to documentation of any health disorders. Other factors, such as body condition, rectal temperature, and blood metabolites, were monitored as well.

Cows with disease status had greater concentrations of free fatty acids, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and haptoglobin; greater rectal temperature; and less calcium compared with healthy cows on postpartum days 0, 3, 7, and 14.

“We found that prebreeding body condition score and body weight were greater in healthy cows. Disease also delayed postpartum ovulation, such that the odds for having delayed ovulation were 1.92 times greater in diseased cows than in healthy cows,” said lead author Jeffrey S. Stevenson, PhD, Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA.

Healthy cows were observed to be more active compared with diseased cows and had greater postpartum rumination times. Acute changes in all activities were associated with calving and could serve as predictors of impending parturition based on abrupt decreases in rumination and acute increases in total activity.

The study concludes that disease negatively affects postpartum metabolic profiles and first ovulation and is associated with measurable changes in physical activity.