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J Dairy Sci. 2011 Apr;94(4):1864-72. doi: 10.3168/jds.2010-3924.

Factors associated with the rectal temperature of Holstein dairy cows during the first 10 days in milk.

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Department of Clinical Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.


Daily evaluation of rectal temperature (RT) during the first 10 d in milk (DIM) is used to facilitate the early identification of postpartum complications, particularly metritis in dairy cows. The factors associated with RT of postpartum dairy cows have not been clearly established and the RT threshold used to define fever has been variable. The objectives were to identify factors associated with the RT of postpartum dairy cows and provide descriptive statistics of the RT during the first 10 DIM to clarify the normal range of RT for cows. Daily RT was evaluated from 1 to 10 DIM for all cows calving during 2 consecutive summers on a single 1,500-cow Holstein dairy. Cows were placed into metabolic/digestive (METB), infectious (INF), and no recorded disease (NONE) groups based on disease diagnoses during the first 10 DIM. Cows were grouped based on calving difficulty and parity. Multiple linear regression models with repeated measures were used to evaluate the factors associated with RT. Three hundred and ninety-two cows were evaluated, of which 45% were primiparous and 32% required assistance at calving. No difference was observed in calving assistance by parity. First disease diagnoses peaked in the INF and METB groups at 3 and 1 DIM, respectively. The RT of primiparous cows was 0.1 to 0.2°C higher than that of multiparous cows from 1 to 8 DIM, accounting for calving difficulty, twin births, month of calving, and disease group in the model. The INF group cows had a higher RT than did NONE group cows (38.9±0.04 to 39.2±0.73 vs. 38.7±0.03°C, respectively) on each of the first 10 DIM, which was approximately 0.6°C higher from 3 to 5 DIM. The RT of cows with metritis was at least 0.1°C higher (38.8±0.05°C) than that of NONE group cows beginning 4 d before diagnosis. The mean RT of primiparous, defined healthy (NONE group) cows was 38.8±0.02°C, with an upper normal limit (mean+2 SD) of 39.6°C. The mean RT of multiparous cows in the NONE group during the first 10 DIM was 38.7±0.01°C, with an upper normal limit of 39.5°C. The RT of dairy cattle during the first 10 DIM was associated with parity, month of calving, and an infectious disease diagnosis, particularly the diagnosis of metritis. The normal RT of dairy cattle in the immediate postpartum period, during the warm summer months, is potentially higher than that generally reported.

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