Detecting Mastitis and Lameness through Behavioral Patterns

According to Dr. Trevor DeVries, University of Guelph, who spoke at the PDPW Annual Business Conference last week in Madison, the dairy industry has tremendous potential in predicting and identifying disease using technology to monitor changes in cow behaviors. He presented his findings on studies analyzing 3 major cow behaviors:  rumination behavior, feeding behavior, and standing and lying behaviors.

 Using technology and behavior patterns to interpret standing and lying patterns is one area that looks promising for the industry.

Behavioral Patterns and Mastitis

Lying behavior patterns are known to influence the risk of mastitis infections. Cows that lie down too soon after milking don’t achieve closure of the teat canal before potential exposure to mastitis-causing bacteria. To encourage cows to remain standing, most dairies have fresh feed immediately accessible after milking.

The optimum time DeVries found for cows to spend standing after milking was about an hour. Cows that stood less than 45 minutes after milking were at an increased risk for mastitis, and interestingly, cows that remained standing for an extended period of time, 1.5 to 2.5 hours after milking, were at a more significant risk for mastitis than those that lie down immediately.

Behavioral Patterns and Lameness

DeVries stated that, in addition to mastitis, lameness is the top condition challenging our dairy cattle.                                                                               

While it’s optimal for cows to spend half their day lying, excessive lying of 14.5 hours or more a day and extended lying bouts of more than 90 minutes were associated with increased odds of severe lameness.

Excessive standing behavior around the time of transition is heavily correlated to mid-lactation sole lesions and ulcers, which take 6 – 12 weeks to develop. These issues track back to an event during the transition period in cows with excessive standing times, particularly in cows that spent high amounts of time perching (standing with 2 feet in the stall, 2 in the alley). Many stall design solutions can be done to curb the number of cows perching, including widening stalls and moving neck rails forward and higher.


DeVries take home messages on detecting and preventing mastitis and lameness through behavioral patterns were:

  1. Behavior can be used to identify dairy cattle experiencing or at risk for illness.
  2. Monitor cows with excessive amounts of standing or lying time. Visual detection can be hard, technology can help.
  3. Interpreting behavior patterns can suggest housing and management changes that can positively alter behavioral patterns that have negative effects.

As a producer, you have to ask if cow monitoring technology is practical for use in your commercial setting. Cow activity systems to track heats are common on dairies today, and many are developing into tools to monitor other health concerns.

Legend Track A Cow, ANIMART’s heat detection system, goes beyond alerting producers to cows in heat. Legend pedometers have the ability to detect the difference between when the cow is standing and lying. The system generates standing/lying ratios, identifying serious deviations from the norm.  

Access to this information gives dairy producers the power to investigate why cows are spending excessive time standing or lying, both on a herd basis and individual cow basis. Correctly interpreting the data can alert producers to health issues, such as mastitis, as well as problems that could create further health issues, such as overcrowding, inadequate bunk space or stall size.

For more information on Legend, click here, or contact Joe Stevens, ANIMART Reproduction Specialist at 920.382.5951 or

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