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Are Your Cows' Eating and Rumination Patterns Trying to Tell You Something?

September 29th, 2016

Are Your Cows' Eating and Rumination Patterns Trying to Tell You Something?

Proper dairy herd management is a huge factor in ensuring the maximum performance of the animals in order to increase the farm’s bottom line. And one of the most important contributions to proper dairy herd management is monitoring cow health.  

In previous posts, we've explored how monitoring FPR (fat to protein ratio) assists in the early detection of ketosis in dairy cows and monitoring electrical conductivity in milk assists in the early detection of mastitis.

But although ketosis and mastitis account for a large proportion of cow diseases, there are other cow health concerns as well and modern dairy farms must learn to incorporate a system that can detect a wider group of health concerns such as:, pneumonia, metritis, cystic cows and rumen-related issues such as displaced abomasum, acidosis and other indigestion problems.

Among the biological systems a stand-alone system can monitor are rumination and eating patterns of dairy herds. Monitoring these together have been shown to be quite effective in the early diagnosis of these type of health concerns. This post will explain how these patterns can be monitored and present a few examples of how it can detect health problems before they present serious concerns to your herd. 


How to Monitor Rumination and Eating Patterns

We know that cows spend about 90% of their time ruminating, resting, or eating1. The average ruminating time for healthy cows in Israeli dairy herds is 8 hours per 

every 24-hour cycle. This means that when we find significant deviations from the daily average it is important/meaningful.

The challenge in finding these meaningful deviations is due to rumination and eating patterns usually being measured independently. These types of independent deviations can indicate changes in cows' health, but they may occur for a variety of reasons. The different factors that influence rumination and eating include, but are not limited to: type of ration (TMR or grass for grazing herds), forage quality (especially in fibrous content)2, the ratio between concentration and rough feed, feed delivery frequency, feed bank space, milk production and stage of lactation. Let's not forget about stress factors such as cows which are in heat, or who have changed groups or developed heat stress due to high temperature. All of these are examples which influence feed intake and group behavior.

Although independent measurement of rumination and eating is crucial, it's also important to monitor both together. Together they tell an entire story of the health of each cow and are a much more accurate indicator of cow health.

We'll present you with a few examples of how this works below.


Example #1: Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Pneumonia

Imagine a dairy farm manager – let's call him Bill – is going about his daily routine that involves checking up on his herd's health. Whether his herd is large or small, it's tough keeping up with all the different aspects of your herds' health without an automated cow monitoring system. Thankfully, Bill has a top-notch cow monitoring solution that he uses for his dairy herd management, which monitors data on individual cows to provide daily health alerts for specific cows.

This is what the dashboard of the system looks like and how he is able to determine which cow needs to be checked: 


The black icon, Health alerts, indicates cows in which both the eating and rumination have deviated from the norm and the cow needs immediate attention.


                                   Dramatic decline since yesterday in both rumination and eating for this cow


Bill checks the Health alerts and sees a dramatic decline in both eating and rumination for cow #341.  Being the aggressive operator that he is, he immediately schedules an appointment with the vet to check this cow. The vet diagnoses cow #341 with pneumonia and is able to start treatment with her right away. Bill’s aggressive and speedy approach was rewarded by a fast and effective cow recovery process.


Example #2: Detection of a Twisted Uterus Leads to a Healthy Normal Birth 

Let's return to Bill's daily monitoring of his herd. He continues checking each individual cow alerted to him by the system and reviews cow #34. He sees the huge decline of rumination and eating and remembers that cow #34 is due to calve any day. Since he is now even more concerned, he immediately calls the vet to have the cow checked. The vet diagnoses the cow with a twisted uterus. Together, Bill and the vet twist the uterus back in time to successfully deliver a healthy calf as well as provide supportive treatment to cow #34. Without the early warning system, Bill would have lost not only his baby calf but most likely his cow as well. 



Listening to Both Sides of the Story

Data on each cow tells a story, and modern dairy farmers need all of the data to understand the complete picture.

Afimilk’s automated cow monitoring system monitors herd fertility and lactation in addition to rumination, eating and rest analysis. Especially with larger herds, modern dairy farmers need a practical solution that is able to offer an accurate and specific detection of sick cows with a very high degree of accuracy.

Want to learn more about which cow monitoring solution is right for your herd? Subscribe to our blog today!


Kilgore, 2012.

Jarrige et al., 1995; Fustini et al., 2011

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