November 8, 2022


US team may employ consumer monitoring devices on cows as part of bovine mastitis research



A multi-US state research team led by a Colorado State University (CSU) professor anticipates using monitoring devices like Fitbits or Apple Watches in an effort to study and improve dairy cow health.


The study will focus on bovine mastitis. According to CSU, the true financial cost of mastitis to the organic dairy industry has never been precisely studied, and this issue will be an important part of the research.


CSU announced in October a US$3 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture in support of the research.


Dr. Pablo Pinedo, a DVM and associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, will lead the research team. The team will include researchers from the University of Florida, the Ohio State University, Cornell University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. The project is scheduled to last four years.


Previous research has been difficult due in part to the smaller size (and thus survey sample) of organic herds compared to "conventional" or non-organic dairy operations. CSU has a local partner to resolve that issue. Aurora Organic Dairy will make its dairies in Colorado, the United States, available to complete field studies, testing new strategies for mastitis prevention during the dry-off period (the six to eight weeks before calving when cows are not milked), according to CSU.


Aurora Organic Dairy has more than 1,400 milk cows at its Platteville facility. Aurora Organic Dairy chief agricultural officer Dr. Juan Velez has used essential oils and vitamins in an effort to control mastitis.


"These products are believed to have some antimicrobial capabilities - as well as the ability to increase the cow's immune response - but lack much research behind them," Velez stated. "One of the reasons I believe this project is so important is that it will help uncover if the science is solid behind products that are already available." 


The study will look at those and other similar preventative measures that could benefit organic dairies across the nation - and possibly even be adopted into the methods used by conventional dairies. 


"The overall goal is to develop and assess an integrated systems approach for mastitis control and welfare," Dr. Pinedo stated.


One element of the research will be to look at an individual cow's comfort and whether improvement comfort limits susceptibility or resistance to mastitis. To that end, 5,000 cows will be outfitted with special sensors to monitor their rest and activity levels.


"Using this activity data will help us learn if changes in cow behavior could be predictors to cows getting mastitis, detecting the mastitis and detecting it earlier than you would with the traditional method of just checking a few squirts of milk during milking," Velez said.


"We know that a lactating dairy cow needs to spend about 11 hours just resting," Pinedo stated. "If she's not, something is wrong. It could be that there are not enough beds, or the beds are not comfortable. Or maybe she's resting too long, which might mean she's starting to get sick." 


The veterinary team at Organic Valley Cooperative will assist researchers with efforts at a significant number of smaller organic dairy outfits elsewhere in the US.


- CBS Colorado

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