University of Wisconsin–Madison

JD affects cow behavior

Gemma Charlton & colleagues from the Animal Production, Welfare and Veterinary Sciences, Harper Adams University, Shropshire, UK report in the Journal of Dairy Science that cows testing positive for Johne’s disease by milk ELISA spend less time lying down. The authors’ correct proof first available online October 9 and is an Open Access publication.


Paratuberculosis or Johne’s disease (JD) is a fatal chronic enteritis that causes detrimental effects on production and health and significantly reduces the welfare of cattle. Control of JD is highly desirable, but single milk ELISA testing may not be sensitive enough to identify all affected animals, particularly in the early stages of the disease. The objective of this study was to compare the activity of JD-positive (JD5) to JD-negative (JD0) cows from calving until wk 20 of lactation. The study was conducted at Harper Adams University, United Kingdom, using 42 multiparous [3.1 ± 0.22 (mean ± standard error of the mean); range: 2–7 lactations] Holstein Friesian cows, fitted with an IceQube accelerometer (IceRobotics Ltd., Edinburgh, UK) on the back left leg. The sensors recorded data on lying and standing time, steps, and motion index with a granularity of 15 min. In addition, start and stop times for lying bouts, and exact lying bout durations were recorded, which permits calculation of the number of lying bouts. Every 3 mo the cows were milk sampled and subsequently tested for JD using an ELISA. Cows in the infection group JD0 were classed as JD negative and cows in the infection group JD5 were classed as JD positive. Johne’s-positive cows [JD5; n = 21 (repeat ELISA positive)] were matched to negative cows [JD0; n = 21 (repeat ELISA negative)] based on lactation number and age. Around peak lactation we found differences in lying behavior. The JD5 cows spend less time lying/d during wk 7 to 11 of lactation. The largest difference observed was around wk 8 of lactation, with JD5 cows spending, on average, 2 h/d less time lying down than JD0 cows (9.3 ± 0.33 vs. 11.3 ± 0.61 h/d, respectively). The JD5 cows also had fewer lying bouts per day from wk 7 to 15 of lactation (excluding wk 13), and during wk 11 and 12 average lying bout duration was longer for JD5 cows compared with JD0 cows. No differences were observed in steps per day, milk yield, BCS, and mobility score between JD5 and JD0 cows from calving to wk 20 of lactation. As far as we are aware, this is the first study to show changes in activity of JD-positive cows. The results show that activity data from leg-mounted accelerometers has the potential to help identify JD-positive cows, although more research is required.

Comment: This study is highlighted on because it so novel. It merits further study using a larger number of cows, more accurate diagnostic tests and perhaps classification of test-positive cows by level of infection severity.

Why would cows with Johne’s disease lie down less? Are they uncomfortable or just looking for a bathroom? <attempted humor>

For more about cow lying down behavior follow this link.