The Effect of Lameness on the Resting Behavior and Metabolic Status of Dairy Cattle During the Transition Period in a Freestall-Housed Dairy Herd

J Dairy Sci. 2011 Jun;94(6):2883-94. doi: 10.3168/jds.2010-3855.


The objective of this observational study was to examine the effect of lameness on the resting behavior of dairy cattle through the transition period in a mattress-bedded commercial freestall facility, and explore the relationships between lameness, behavior, and metabolic indicators of disease. A convenience sample was used, comprised of 40 multiparous and 17 primiparous Holstein cows that were recruited as they entered the close-up pen and tracked through the maternity, hospital, and fresh pens. At recruitment, 87.5% of multiparous cows and 23.5% of primiparous cows showed evidence of abnormal gait. Lying time decreased from 16 d before calving from a least squares means ± standard error of 13.5 ± 0.6 h/d to a nadir of 10.6 ± 0.38 h/d on the day of calving. After a period of increased rest after calving, lying time stabilized by d 6 to between 9.8 and 10.8h/d. This change was accompanied by an increase in the number of lying bouts per day from least squares means (95% confidence limits) of 11.2 (10.0 to 12.4) bouts per day to a peak of 17.7 (16.5 to 18.8) bouts per day on the day before calving, and a decrease in the duration of each lying bout. Resting behavior was influenced by calving month, temperature humidity index, body condition, parity, and lameness. Moderate and severely lame cows had significantly longer lying times throughout the transition period before and after calving, but most notable was a dramatic increase in the number of lying bouts observed 3 d before and after calving. In the straw-bedded, loose-housed maternity pen, moderate and severely lame cows had 20.3 (19.1 to 21.5) bouts per day, compared with 15.6 (14.3 to 16.8) bouts per day for nonlame cows. We hypothesized that this alteration in behavior may be associated with hypersensitivity to pain due to lameness. A total of 26.3% of cows tested above a threshold of 1,400 μM β-hydroxybutyrate. Moderate and severely lame cows had a least squares means (95% confidence limits) β-hydroxybutyrate concentration of 1,165 (1,037 to 1,291) μM that was significantly greater than 697 (560 to 834) μM for slightly lame cows and 687 (551 to 824) μM for nonlame cows. In summary, lameness significantly altered the resting behavior of cows during the transition period and was associated with elevated risk for ketosis in the study herd.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bedding and Linens / veterinary
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases* / metabolism
  • Cattle Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Housing, Animal
  • Ketosis / metabolism
  • Ketosis / veterinary*
  • Lameness, Animal* / metabolism
  • Lameness, Animal* / physiopathology
  • Parity
  • Peripartum Period* / physiology
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors