On the use of physical activity monitoring for estrus detection in dairy cows
Detection of estrus in dairy cattle is effectively aided by electronic activity tags or pedometers. Characterization of estrus intensity and duration is also possible from activity data. This study aimed to develop an algorithm to detect and characterize behavioral estrus from hourly recorded activity data and to apply the algorithm to activity data from an experimental herd. The herd comprised of Holstein (n = 211), Jersey (n = 126), and Red Dane (n = 178) cattle, with virgin heifers (n = 132) and lactating cows in the first 4 parities; n = 895 cow-parities, with a total of 3,674 activity episodes. The algorithm was based on deviations from exponentially smoothed hourly activity counts and was used to identify onset, duration, and intensity of estrus. Learning data included 461 successful inseminations with activity records over a 2-wk period before and after the artificial insemination. Rates of estrus detection and error rate depended on the chosen threshold level. At a threshold giving 74.6% detection rate, daily error rate was 1.3%. When applied to a subset of the complete data where milk progesterone was also available, concordance of days to first activity-detected estrus with the similar trait based on progesterone was also dependent on the chosen threshold so that, with stricter thresholds, the agreement was closer. A single-trait mixed model was used to determine the effects of systematic factors on the estrus activity traits. In general, an activity episode lasted 9.24 h in heifers and 8.12 h in cows, with the average strength of 1.03 ln units (equivalent to a 2.8-fold increase) in both age groups. Red Danes had significantly fewer days to first episode of high activity than Holsteins and Jerseys (29.4, 33.1, and 33.9 d, respectively). However, Jerseys had significantly shorter duration and less strength of estrus than both Red Danes and Holsteins of comparable age. The random effect of cow affected days to first episode of high activity and strength as well as estrus duration. Days from calving to first episode of high activity correlated negatively with body condition scores in early lactation. The results suggest that data from activity monitors could supply valuable information about fertility traits and could thereby be helpful in management of herd fertility. To establish the complementarities or interdependence between progesterone and activity measurements, further studies with more information from different sources of measuring estrus are needed.
Journal Title/Title of Proceedings
Journal of Dairy Science