Automated Monitoring of Dairy Cows’

Behavioral Patterns as a Tool

N. Livshin, E. Aizinbud, M. Tinsky, U. Bargai, E. Maltz

Abstract

Automatically monitored behavioral (feeding and locomotor) irregularities of Israeli Holstein cows were investigated in three dairies in relation to animals’ health status and stress conditions. Feeding behavior patterns were analyzed on the base of automatic on-line recording of feeding events. Indices of feeding behavior irregularities were proposed.

Long lasted feeding behavior irregularities were accompanied by poor health related parameters: higher milk Somatic Cells Count and conductivity, greater body condition loss toward first insemination, and increased cooling rate.

During the months of heat stress, timing of feeding visits differed significantly from those under moderate climatic conditions. This information allowed better understanding of reasons for reduced feed intake under heat stress and may be beneficial for dairy management routine corrections.

Locomotor behavior was evaluated by daily monitoring of cows’ walking activity using leg pedometers. Locomotor (walking) behavioral irregularities indicated ovarian cyclic activity abnormalities, embryonic death, and abortion incidents. Stress situations such as trimming procedures, weaning and post-calving regrouping were accompanied by sharp disturbances in cows’ locomotor activity.

Deviations in cow behavior may serve as alert for health problems, stress and management failures.

The knowledge of behavioral deviations benefits the dairymen by enabling him to decide timely which animal to direct for vet inspection or what must be improved in farm management.

Key words: dairy cows, feeding behavior, locomotor behavior, behavior monitoring, dairy management system

Introduction

The growing usage of computerized dairy management systems, combined with sensors attached to animals or build in feeders or milk lines, opens new opportunities for automatic routine monitoring of dairy cows behavior. Daily behavior monitoring enables to recognize deviations from the stable behavioral patterns of the animals.

This presentation is dedicated to studying irregularities in cows’ feeding and locomotor behavior.

The numerous investigations of cattle feeding behavior are oriented mainly on ensuring conditions for optimal food intake (e.g. Grant et al., 2000). There is a vast amount of information on appetite loss due particular diseases. However, only a few studies are devoted to cattle feeding behavior (FB) regularity. Recently, interest to dairy cows feeding behavior regularity aroused due to development of milking robot technology, where computerized concentrate feeders contribute to more regular robot station attendance (e.g. Ketelaar-de Lauwere et al., 1999; Livshin et al., 1995, 2002; Maltz et al., 2002). Limited information is available on irregularities in feeding behavior patterns as indicators of health problems or stress. In a retrospective analysis, in ten cows with foot and leg problems significant FB deviations were revealed in average 5 d before the diagnosis by the bovine practitioner (Maltz et al., 1999). In the 15 cases of clinical mastitis, a decrease in concentrates feed intake of 41.7 ± 11.2% took place 2.6 ± 1.0 days before vet diagnosis (Livshin et al., 2001).  There are numerous publications on cows locomotor (walking) activity deviations during estrus (e.g. Kiddy, 1977; Lehrer et al., 1992; Nebel et al., 2000). Only several publications are dedicated to walking activity deviations due to disease or stress (Bargai et al., 2002; Moallem et al., 2002; Edwards and Tozer, 2003). It was found that during Ketosis, Left displaced abomasums, and digestive disorders, walking activity decline took place several days before milk yield decline (Edwards and Tozer, 2003). Aizinbud (1999) and Edwards and Tozer (2003) noted that in the first week postpartum cows exhibit relatively high level of walking activity.

The goal of this presentation is to relate computer-generated information on cows feeding and locomotor behavior irregularities with various health and stress conditions.

Materials and Methods

Dairy cows FB was studied in A.R.O., Volcani center, experimental dairy. Locomotor behavior of animals was studied in the same dairy and in two commercial dairies. Each of these dairies has 300 –500 high yielding (about 11000 kg/year) Israeli Holstein cows in milk, housed in covered loose pens and milked thrice daily.

Feeding behavior monitoring

In the first study, directed on highlighting the relationship between FB irregularities and health problems, FB was monitored during three first post-calving months for a group of 27 cows fed individual concentrates supplement through computer controlled self-feeders (Afifeed system, S.A.E. Afikim, Afikim, Israel). Daily concentrate allowance was offered in 6 portions (six feeding windows – FW). The FB irregularity indices were defined for individual cows in accordance with several types of feeding opportunities’ missing, i.e. non-attendance of feeders in particular time intervals. (i) non-attendance in a FW usually visited by this particular cow; (ii) non-attendance in any two or more FW; (iii) non-attendance in two consecutive FW; and (iv) non-attendance between consecutive milkings. The health-related parameters monitored included: milk conductivity (daily), body weight (daily), body condition score (weekly) and somatic cell count (biweekly).

In the second study, heat stress influence on FB was investigated. FB was monitored in a group of 40 cows fed total mixed ration through computer controlled feeding stalls (a single cow assigned to a single feeder). The system is described in details by Halachmi et al., 1998. Fresh feed was loaded in feeders once a day (24-h feeding cycles). The computer maintained on-line recording of feed weight and time in the start and end of each feeding visit. The cows FB were analyzed for two months – August 2001 (heavy heat stress), and November 2001 (moderate climatic conditions in Israel). The mean FB parameters per cow were counted for each hour of diurnal feeding cycle.

Locomotor behavior monitoring. Cows’ locomotor activity was evaluated using Afimilk® pedometer with AfiFarm software (S.A.E. Afikim, Afikim, Israel). The irregularities in walking activity of cows suffering from reproduction cyclic disorders were studied on 72 animals in one dairy. The influence of trimming stress on locomotor behavior has been investigated on 211 cows in three separated dairies. Pedometric data were monitored two days before hoof trimming, during the trimming day and the following day. The influence of cows post-calving stress on locomotor behavior was revealed through monitoring of the fresh cows walking activity during first 21 day in milk in three dairies.

Mean values in the text presented as mean ± confidence interval.

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