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Effect of metritis on intake, milk yield and culling risk

Marina von Keyserlingk and Dan Weary Published on 29 February 2012

Metritis is a common and costly disease that affects dairy cows during the early postpartum period. Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Dairy Center have completed a number of studies investigating the relationships between health and behavior (behaviour) of cows during the transition period and have found that both feeding behavior (behaviour) and dry matter intake (DMI) can be used in the early detection of disease.

One of these studies characterized prepartum behavior (behaviour) and DMI of cows that developed metritis after calving. Relative to the healthy cows, those that developed metritis after calving spent less time at the feedbunk and had lower dry DMI as far back as two weeks prior to calving (approximately three weeks before clinical signs of disease were evident).



While this work highlights that metritis can have negative consequences on the behavior behaviour) and intake of transition dairy cattle, there has been limited research investigating the long-term impact of these changes on milk production and culling risk.

To explore the long-term consequence of metritis, data from two previous transition cow studies were combined.

Using only data from multiparous cows, a population of 43 healthy animals (no fever or other clinical signs of disease by 21 days postpartum) and 16 metritic animals (had a fetid, foul smelling vaginal discharge, with a fever greater than 103.1ºF (39.5°C) by 21 days postpartum) were identified.

0412pd_ubc_fg_1Individual animal DMI was monitored for 21 days after calving for all experimental animals using an electronic feeding system. During this time cows had ad libitum access to both feed and water.


Metritis during early lactation had an overall negative impact on the milk production by multiparous cows. These animals produced less milk than those that remained healthy.

This reduction in milk yield was not only experienced during the metritis infection but also throughout the first 20 weeks of lactation, despite all sick cows receiving veterinary care (Figure 1 above).

0412pd_ubc_fg_2Cows with metritis and lower milk yield also had reduced feed intake during the first 21 days after calving (Figure 2).

The reduction in feed intake during the first three weeks of lactation for cows with metritis may help to explain the lower daily milk yield observed in these animals over the first 20 weeks of lactation; however, it remains unknown whether these cows have decreased feed intake beyond three weeks after calving.

The odds of being culled were 3.8 times greater for cows with metritis compared to the odds of being culled for healthy cows. Cows that were culled produced less milk than those that were not culled during the first 12 weeks of lactation.

Culling decisions for the study farm were made prior to any indications of reproductive problems, as most of the cows with metritis that were culled were never bred. This finding indicates that culling decisions were likely based on disease status and low milk production in early lactation, rather than reproductive performance.  PD


References omitted due to space but available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

—Excerpts from UBC Research Reports, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2012.

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