The development and validation of a milk feeding behavior alert from automated feeder data to classify calves at risk for a diarrhea bout: A diagnostic accuracy study

M. C. Cantor, A. A. Welk, K. C. Creutzinger, M. M. Woodrum Setser, J. H.C. Costa, D. L. Renaud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of this diagnostic accuracy study was to develop and validate an alert to identify calves at risk for a diarrhea bout using milk feeding behavior data (behavior) from automated milk feeders (AMF). We enrolled Holstein calves (n = 259) as a convenience sample size from 2 facilities that were health scored daily preweaning and offered either 10 or 15 L/d of milk replacer. For alert development, 132 calves were enrolled and the ability of milk intake, drinking speed, and rewarded visits collected from AMF to identify calves at risk for diarrhea was tested. Alerts that had high diagnostic accuracy in the alert development phase were validated using a holdout validation strategy of 127 different calves from the same facilities (all offered 15 L/d) for −3 to 1 d relative to diarrhea diagnosis. We enrolled calves that were either healthy or had a first diarrheal bout (loose feces ≥2 d or watery feces ≥1 d). Relative change and rolling dividends for each milk feeding behavior were calculated for each calf from the previous 2 d. Logistic regression models and receiver operator curves (ROC) were used to assess the diagnostic ability for relative change and rolling dividends behavior relative to alert d) to classify calves at risk for a diarrhea bout from −2 to 0 d relative to diagnosis. To maximize sensitivity (Se), alert thresholds were based on ROC optimal classification cutoff. Diagnostic accuracy was met when the alert had a moderate area under the ROC curve (≥0.70), high accuracy (Acc; ≥0.80), high Se (≥0.80), and very high precision (Pre; ≥0.85). For alert development, deviations in rolling dividend milk intake with drinking speed had the best performance (10 L/d: ROC area under the curve [AUC] = 0.79, threshold ≤0.70; 15 L/d: ROC AUC = 0.82, threshold ≤0.60). Our diagnostic criteria were only met in calves offered 15 L/d (10 L/d: Se 75%, Acc 72%, Pre 92%, specificity [Sp] 55% vs. 15 L/d: Se 91%, Acc 91%, Pre 89%, Sp 73%). For holdout validation, rolling dividend milk intake with drinking speed met diagnostic criteria for one facility (threshold ≤0.60, Se 86%, Acc 82%, Pre 94%, Sp 50%). However, no milk feeding behavior alerts met diagnostic criteria for the second facility due to poor Se (relative change milk intake −0.36 threshold, Se 71%, Acc 70%, and Pre 97%). We suggest that changes in milk feeding behavior may indicate diarrhea bouts in dairy calves. Future research should validate this alert in commercial settings; furthermore, software updates, support, and new analytics might be required for on-farm application to implement these types of alerts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3140-3156
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics

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