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Positive and negative gestational handling influences placental traits and mother-offspring behavior in dairy goats

By E. M. Baxter, J. Mulligan, S. A. Hall, J. E. Donbavand, R. Palme, E. Aldujaili, A. J. Zanella, C. M. Dwyer

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Dairy animals are subjected to a number of potential stressors throughout their lives, including daily interactions with humans. The quality of these interactions may have direct consequences for the animal undergoing the experience, but if such events occur during gestation it may also affect the developing fetus. This study examined the effects of differential handling during mid-gestation in 40 twin-bearing Saanen × Toggenburg primiparous goats. Between days 80 and 115 of gestation (gestation = 150 days), goats were subjected to aversive (AVS, n = 13), gentle (GEN, n = 13) or minimal (M, n = 14) handling protocols for 10 minute periods twice daily. The control (M) group did not receive handling treatments and all goats received normal husbandry procedures outside treatment periods. Salivary cortisol measured during the treatment period was higher in AVS goats (mean cortisol (sem) in pg/μl: AVS: 176.7 (18.2), GEN: 119.6 (11.1), M: 126.5 (13.7); P = 0.007). Data collection was focussed on mother-offspring behaviors 2 h post-partum, placental morphology and colostrum quality. AVS goats were the only treatment group to suffer fetal loss (16% loss vs 0% in GEN and M, P = 0.05). Treatment also influenced placental morphology with a tendency for fewer cotyledons evident in placentae from the aversive treatment (AVS: 87.9 (7.8), GEN: 107.1 (7.9), M: 112.1 (9.3), P = 0.093), and significantly fewer medium sized cotyledons (AVS: 67.6 (7.8), GEN: 89.3 (6.4), M: 84.3 (5.4), P = 0.042). GEN goats displayed more grooming and nosing behaviors towards their young during the first 2 h post-partum (grooming: GEN: 89.3% (7.1), AVS: 72.6% (7.7), M: 63.4% (9.0), P = 0.045; nosing frequency: GEN: 58.8 (12.5), AVS: 28.6 (11.1), M: 34.7 (6.5), P = 0.021). There was an overall trend for kids from mothers experiencing the AVS treatment to take longer to stand, reach the udder and suck compared to kids from GEN and M treatment groups. Treatment significantly affected latency to perform play behavior, with kids from AVS goats taking on average 25 min longer to play for the first time than kids from GEN and M treatment groups (P < 0.001). The results show that handling during gestation affects placental morphology, fetal survival and post-partum maternal behaviors, and influences kid behavioral development. Such results have important animal welfare implications, demonstrating that negative handling of pregnant females results in poorer placental quality with potential for fetal loss. It also demonstrates the beneficial effects of positive handling on enhancement of maternal behaviors.

Date 2016
Publication Title Physiol Behav
Volume 157
Pages 129-138
ISBN/ISSN 0031-9384
DOI 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.02.001
Author Address Animal Behavior and Welfare, Animal and Veterinary Sciences Group, Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK.Emma.Baxter@sruc.ac.uk
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal physiology
  4. Animal reproduction
  5. Animals
  6. Animal welfare
  7. Behavioral research
  8. Biochemistry
  9. Bovidae
  10. Capra
  11. Colostrum
  12. Dairy animals
  13. Food science
  14. Goats
  15. Handling
  16. Hydrocortisone
  17. Kids
  18. Mammals
  19. Maternal behavior
  20. Milk and dairy products
  21. Molecular biology
  22. physical activity
  23. physiology
  24. placenta
  25. pregnancy
  26. Relationships
  27. Reproduction
  28. Ruminants
  29. saliva
  30. Stress
  31. Stress response
  32. technology
  33. ungulates
  34. vertebrates
  35. Veterinary sciences