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Behavioural predictors of the start of normal and dystocic calving in dairy cows and heifers

By H. M. Miedema, M. S. Cockram, C. M. Dwyer, A. I. Macrae

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The individual monitoring of dairy cows around the time of calving is important to identify calving difficulties or health problems as early as possible. This study aims to identify whether there are differences in the behaviour before calving, between heifers and cows, and between those that are assisted at calving and those that are not. Behavioural recordings of Holstein-Friesian cows and heifers were made before and during calving. Video recordings from 12 cows and 12 heifers were selected so that half of each group were observed to have calved without assistance and the other half were identified as having been assisted at calving. To compare the 12 h prior to the calf being expelled with a 12-h control period during late pregnancy, continuous focal observations were made from the video recordings to quantify frequencies and durations of behaviours during 2-h periods. An increased duration of tail raising was observed before calving and this was seen earlier in heifers, from 4 h before calving, compared with only 2 h before calving in cows. Lying frequency increased as calving approached from 6 h before calving in unassisted animals, but only during the final 2 h before calving in assisted animals. These results show important differences between heifers and cows in their pre-calving behaviour which must be taken into account when predicting the time of calving from behaviour. However, for those animals that subsequently required assistance, no behavioural early-warning signs of a difficult calving were identified.

Date 2011
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 132
Issue 1/2
Pages 14-19
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.003
Language English
Author Address Division of Veterinary Clinical Sciences and the Roslin Institute, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. animal breed
  3. Animal genetics
  4. Animal reproduction
  5. Automation
  6. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  7. Birth
  8. Breeds
  9. Calves
  10. Cattle
  11. Dairy animals
  12. Gestation
  13. Health
  14. Illnesses
  15. Mammals
  16. monitoring
  17. peer-reviewed
  18. predictions
  19. predictors
  20. pregnancy
  21. Ruminants
  22. surveillance
  23. video recordings
  1. peer-reviewed