Robotic milking parlor on a dairy farm in Stearns County.
October 22, 2019

Objective

Research will provide information to support strategies to control animal diseases.

Issue

Research has shown dairy cows alter their eating behavior prior to showing symptoms of disease and a majority of them die or leave the herd during the first 40 days after calving. Identifying animals at risk before they become severely ill could reduce farm dairy mortality, thus improving profitability while also improving overall animal wellbeing.

What has been done

Marcia Endres and her collaborators have conducted studies with over 300 dairy farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota to help improve the use of new technologies and investigate best management practices in the dairy industry. While exploring the effects of different bedding materials, barn ventilation systems or a new piece of technology, these researchers are also looking for clues to see if a cow is healthy and comfortable. This includes evaluating prevalence of hock injuries and lameness, seeing how cows are grooming or pushing each other, and testing manure for stress hormones. 

Results

In a recent validation study, they showed that an ear-tag accelerometer (i.e. fitbit) accurately recorded eating and rumination behavior of grazing dairy cattle. This research shows the potential of this type of technology to help identity animals at risk. Producers can pay closer attention to cows that had a change in behavior, and take steps to help them, consequently improving their health and wellbeing.

A reduction in on-farm mortality for dairy cattle from the current 6 percent to 3 percent would result in an estimated economic benefit of over $500 million while also helping to improve public opinion of the dairy industry.