Vázquez Diosdado, J. A., Barker, Z. E., Hodges, H. R. et al. 2018. Space-use patterns highlight behavioural differences linked to lameness, parity, and days in milk in barn-housed dairy cows. PLOS ONE 13(12), e0208424.

Lameness is a key health and welfare issue affecting commercial herds of dairy cattle, with potentially significant economic impacts due to the expense of treatment and lost milk production. Existing lameness detection methods can be time-intensive, and under-detection remains a significant problem leading to delayed or missed treatment. Hence, there is a need for automated monitoring systems that can quickly and accurately detect lameness in individual cows within commercial dairy herds. Recent advances in sensor tracking technology have made it possible to observe the movement, behaviour and space-use of a range of animal species over extended time-scales. However, little is known about how observed movement behaviour and space-use patterns in individual dairy cattle relate to lameness, or to other possible confounding factors such as parity or number of days in milk. In this cross-sectional study, ten lame and ten non-lame barn-housed dairy cows were classified through mobility scoring and subsequently tracked using a wireless local positioning system. Nearly 900,000 spatial locations were recorded in total, allowing a range of movement and space-use measures to be determined for each individual cow. Using linear models, we highlight where lameness, parity, and the number of days in milk have a significant effect on the observed space-use patterns. Non-lame cows spent more time, and had higher site fidelity (on a day-to-day basis they were more likely to revisit areas they had visited previously), in the feeding area. Non-lame cows also had a larger full range size within the barn. In contrast, lame cows spent more time, and had a higher site-fidelity, in the cubicle (resting) areas of the barn than non-lame cows. Higher parity cows were found to spend more time in the right-hand-side area of the barn, closer to the passageway to the milking parlour. The number of days in milk was found to positively affect the core range size, but with a negative interaction effect with lameness. Using a simple predictive model, we demonstrate how it is possible to accurately determine the lameness status of all individual cows within the study using only two observed space-use measures, the proportion of time spent in the feeding area and the full range size. Our findings suggest that differences in individual movement and space-use behaviour could be used as indicators of health status for automated monitoring within a Precision Livestock Farming approach, potentially leading to faster diagnosis and treatment, and improved animal welfare for dairy cattle and other managed animal species.

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