Researchers at Virginia Tech are using pedometers to track cow activity and then use that data to find sick animals more quickly. Their focus is on metabolic diseases common during the transition period, as well as mastitis.

Use cow activity to detect diseaseThe researchers are evaluating total rest time (time spent lying), rest bouts (number of times the animals went from lying to standing), rest time per bout and traditional step activity. Recent research followed first-lactation and multiple-lactation Holstein, Jersey, and crossbred dairy cows throughout the pre- and postpartum periods from 21 days prior to calving to 30 days after calving.

Data related to dystocia, subclinical ketosis, clinical mastitis, and milk fever were analyzed, and results show that on the day of calving, rest bouts increased in animals that experienced dystocia over those that did not experience dystocia. Further, cows experiencing subclinical ketosis displayed increased rest bouts on the day prior to disease and decreased daily steps six days before the disease was diagnosed.

Additionally, cows experiencing clinical mastitis had decreased rest times beginning three days prior to the onset of disease as compared to animals without mastitis. Cows with milk fever displayed more rest bouts with decreased daily steps on the day prior to and the day after disease diagnosis and increased overall rest duration and time after the clinical diagnosis of disease compared to cows that were not diseased.