Behavioral patterns as indicators of resilience after parturition in dairy cows

van Dixhoorn, I.D.E.; de Mol, R.M.; Schnabel, S.K.; van der Werf, J.T.N.; van Mourik, S.; Bolhuis, J.E.; Rebel, J.M.J.; van Reenen, C.G.


During the transition phase, dairy cows are susceptible to develop postpartum diseases. Cows that stay healthy or recover rapidly can be considered to be more resilient in comparison to those that develop postpartum diseases. An indication of loss of resilience will allow for early intervention with preventive and supportive measures before the onset of disease. We investigated which quantitative behavioral characteristics during the dry period could be used as indicators of reduced resilience after calving, using noninvasive Smart Tag neck and Smart Tag leg sensors in dairy cows (Nedap N.V.). We followed 180 cows during 2 wk before until 6 wk after parturition at 4 farms in the Netherlands. Serving as proxy for loss of resilience, as defined by the duration and severity of disease, a clinical assessment was performed twice weekly and blood samples were taken in the first and fifth week after parturition. For each cow, clinical and serum value deviations were aggregated into a total deficit score (TDS total). We also calculated TDS values relating to inflammation, locomotion, or metabolic problems, which were further divided into macro-mineral and liver-related deviations. Smart Tag neck and leg sensors provided continuous behavioral activity signals of which we calculated the average, variance, and autocorrelation during the dry period. Diurnal patterns in the behavioral activity signals were derived by fast Fourier transformation and the calculation of the nonperiodicity. To select significant predictors of resilience, we first performed a univariate analysis with TDS as dependent variable and the behavioral characteristics that were measured during the dry period, as potential predictors with cow as experimental unit. We included parity group as fixed effect and farm as random effect. Next, we performed multivariable analysis with only significant predictors, followed by a variable selection procedure to obtain a final linear mixed model with an optimal subset of predictors with parity group as fixed effect and farm as random effect. The TDS total was best predicted by average inactive time, nonperiodicity ruminating, nonperiodicity of bouts standing up and fast Fourier transformation stand still. Average inactive time was negatively correlated with average eating time, and these 2 predictors could be exchanged with only little difference in model performance. Our best performing model predicted TDS total at a cutoff level of 60 points, with a sensitivity of 79.5% and a specificity of 73.2% with a positive predicted value of 0.69 and a negative predicted value of 0.83. The models to predict the other TDS categories showed a lower predictive performance as compared with the TDS total model, which could be related to the limited sample size and therefore, low occurrence of problems within a specific TDS category. Furthermore, more resilient dairy cows are characterized by high averages of eating time with high regularity in rumination and low averages of inactive time. They reveal high regularity in standing time and transitions from lying to standing, in the dry period. These behaviors can be used as indicators of resilience and allow for preventive intervention during the dry period in vulnerable dairy cattle. However, further examination is still required to find clues for adequate intervention strategies.