Short communication: Rumination and feeding behaviors differ between healthy and sick dairy cows during the transition period


Source: Journal of Dairy Science


The objectives of this study were:

(1) to describe the rumination and feeding behavior of freestall-housed Holstein dairy cows in the weeks around parturition, and

(2) to determine the relationship between postpartum disease and precalving rumination and feeding behavior.

Eighty cows were enrolled at approximately 2 wk (18 ± 7 d, mean ± standard deviation) before calving. Using automatic monitoring systems, rumination and feeding behavior were recorded continuously from 10 d before until 3 wk after calving. Postpartum health checks were performed each day, and metritis assessment was conducted 2 times/wk. Blood β-hydroxybutyrate was measured 3 times/week, and cows with ≥1.2 mmol/L during the first 14 d postpartum were diagnosed as having subclinical ketosis.

The final data set included 64 cows in 5 groups: healthy (n = 20), metritis (n = 18), subclinical ketosis (SCK; n = 9), metritis+SCK (n = 9), and >1 health problem and not included before (MULT, n = 8). We compared rumination and feeding data between healthy cows and the 4 categories of ill animals in each of 4 periods relative to calving: precalving (d −7 to −2), period 1 (d 3 to 8 postpartum), period 2 (d 9 to 14 postpartum), and period 3 (d 15 to 20 postpartum).

Cows with SCK spent less time ruminating during the precalving period. Compared with healthy cows, those with SCK and metritis+SCK had lower dry matter intake during the precalving period and continued to eat less until d 14 and d 20 postpartum, respectively. Cows with metritis and MULT cows had lower dry matter intake during the first 2 wk postpartum. Precalving feeding time was lower for SCK, metritis+SCK, and MULT cows compared with healthy cows. The difference in feeding time between healthy and metritis+SCK cows had disappeared by period 2 and between all health categories except MULT by period 3. MULT cows visited the feed bins less often and were less often replaced at the feed bin throughout all 4 periods of the study.

Automatic monitoring of intake and rumination showed promise for the detection of health problems after calving. We observed differences in precalving rumination and feeding behavior. Further research is necessary to better understand the onset of behavioral changes and the relationship between rumination and disease.