Dairy cow disability weights

Craig S. McConnel, Ashleigh A. McNeil, Joleen C. Hadrich, Jason E. Lombard, Franklyn B. Garry, Jane Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Over the past 175 years, data related to human disease and death have progressed to a summary measure of population health, the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY). As dairies have intensified there has been no equivalent measure of the impact of disease on the productive life and well-being of animals. The development of a disease-adjusted metric requires a consistent set of disability weights that reflect the relative severity of important diseases. The objective of this study was to use an international survey of dairy authorities to derive disability weights for primary disease categories recorded on dairies. National and international dairy health and management authorities were contacted through professional organizations, dairy industry publications and conferences, and industry contacts. Estimates of minimum, most likely, and maximum disability weights were derived for 12 common dairy cow diseases. Survey participants were asked to estimate the impact of each disease on overall health and milk production. Diseases were classified from 1 (minimal adverse effects) to 10 (death). The data was modelled using BetaPERT distributions to demonstrate the variation in these dynamic disease processes, and to identify the most likely aggregated disability weights for each disease classification. A single disability weight was assigned to each disease using the average of the combined medians for the minimum, most likely, and maximum severity scores. A total of 96 respondents provided estimates of disability weights. The final disability weight values resulted in the following order from least to most severe: retained placenta, diarrhea, ketosis, metritis, mastitis, milk fever, lame (hoof only), calving trauma, left displaced abomasum, pneumonia, musculoskeletal injury (leg, hip, back), and right displaced abomasum. The peaks of the probability density functions indicated that for certain disease states such as retained placenta there was a relatively narrow range of expected impact whereas other diseases elicited a wider breadth of impact. This was particularly apparent with respect to calving trauma, lameness and musculoskeletal injury, all of which could be redefined using gradients of severity or accounting for sequelae. These disability weight distributions serve as an initial step in the development of the disease-adjusted lactation (DALact) metric. They will be used to assess the time lost due to dynamic phases of dairy cow diseases and injuries. Prioritizing health interventions based on time expands the discussion of animal health to view profits and losses in light of the quality and length of life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Early online dateMay 2017
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Dairy cow disability weights'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this