Lameness and lying behavior in grazing dairy cows.


Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, V6T 1Z4, Canada. Electronic address: [Email]


Lameness is a serious welfare issue for dairy cows. To date, the majority of studies have focused on its effect on health and behavior at the herd level. The objectives of this study were to identify (1) between-cow and (2) within-cow changes in lying behavior associated with consistent and changing lameness status in grazing dairy cows. Previous studies of lying behavior in grazing dairy cows have not considered the effect of precipitation, so a third aim was to determine the effect of precipitation on lying behavior. A total of 252 dairy cows from 6 pasture-based farms in southern Brazil were gait scored weekly to assess lameness using a 5-point scale [1-5, numerical rating score (NRS)] for 4 consecutive weeks. Cows were considered to have consistent lameness if they were scored as lame (NRS ≥3) on each of the 4 visits and considered to have a changing lameness status if scored as being nonlame (NRS <3) on at least 1 of the 4 visits. Cows classified as having a changing lameness status were further classified as developed, recovered, or inconsistent. Lying behavior (daily lying time, mean lying bout duration, and daily number of lying bouts) was recorded continuously for 3 wk using leg-mounted accelerometers. Cow-level variables included parity, days in milk, and body condition score. Regional precipitation and temperature were recorded hourly. Because only 1 primiparous cow was identified as lame at each of the 4 visits, the between-cow analysis of lameness was run on multiparous cows only. The overall prevalence of clinical lameness on the first visit was 39%, with development and recovery rates of 16 and 10% over the 4 visits, respectively. The between-cow effect of consistent lameness status on daily lying time and number of lying bouts was dependent on precipitation; consistently lame cows had reduced lying time and lying bouts on days with rain compared with days without rain. There was no within-cow effect of changing lameness status on any of the lying behaviors. Precipitation was associated with decreased daily lying time, increased mean lying bout duration, and decreased daily number of lying bouts. The results of this research provide the first evidence that the effect of consistent lameness status on lying behavior is associated with rainfall in grazing dairy cows. Future work measuring lying behavior of grazing dairy cows should include precipitation as a covariate.


animal welfare,gait,locomotion,precision farming,