Why do some cows get diseases in transition and others don’t?

Cows feeding

Resilience to infection pressure has been shown to be predictable over Calving:

New research has shown that with the help of sensors and data collected over transition, it can be possible to predict which cows are more likely to cope with disease pressure.

Who and How?

Wageningen logoA group of scientists lead by Prof. Ingrid van Dixhoorn at Wageningen University, Netherlands, have put together data collected from multiple sensors and information from 2 weeks before calving to 6 weeks afterwards. They looked for any detrimental condition in the cow after calving, such as mastitis, metritis, increased lameness score, retained placenta, displaced abomasum, fever and others. In summary, any cow showing a clinical event scored 1 on a Total Deficit Score (TDS) each day until it recovered or continued scoring 1 per day until the end of the measurement session if it did not recover or was culled. Cows were examined by a vet daily after calving and sensors placed on the cow before calving were automatic, frequent-measuring sensors measuring lying/eating times, rumen/ear temperature and motion/rumination activity. 22 cows averaging 10,000L/305d lactation from the same farm were used for this study published in the Journal of Dairy Science (Open Access).


Total TDS varied from 0 to 121 per cow. 7 cows were very healthy, scoring <7; 7 cows scored between 7-14 and 9 cows scored over 21, mastitis being the most common condition encountered after calving. The best predictor parameters pre-calving for HEALTH were shown to be average eating and lying times, consistent behavioural motion (more variance predicts for more disease) and daily ear temperature.

Thoughts for the Future

This excellent study shows that trying to manage cows by concentrating lots of data to predict one disease is very challenging. However, if we use this more holistic method of combining all detrimental events after calving and having a Total Deficit Score, we can have a clearer picture of which cows stay healthy and which are less resilient to disease.

In the future, it would be great to see this repeated using more data from pre-calving (e.g. from dry-off) and adding drops in productivity such as daily milk weights into the TDS. This kind of study has a lot of potential for future research processes over many interventions.