Background: Assistance at parturition in cattle is common; however, whether it has negative welfare outcomes is unclear. Although analgesia is commonly provided in cases of dystocia, its value in terms of welfare improvement is not known as studies vary in design and few compare cows experiencing both assisted and unassisted parturition, or cows administered either an analgesic drug or a placebo in a factorial design.
Methods: Seventy-two Holstein cattle (37 assisted and 35 unassisted) were randomly allocated to receive either the NSAID ketoprofen or a saline placebo within 3h of parturition. Detailed behavioural observations were recorded for 48h postpartum and a time budget constructed for each cow.
Results: Lying postures were predominantly affected: cows experiencing assisted parturition (irrespective of treatment status) spent more time in lateral recumbency both overall and with the head rested – a posture associated with poor welfare. Cows treated with ketoprofen (irrespective of assistance status) spent less time in lateral recumbency, both overall and with the head rested. Additionally, cows treated with ketoprofen spent more time with the head rested when in sternal recumbency – a behaviour associated with comfortable resting.
Conclusion: The differences in lying postures exhibited by cows receiving ketoprofen analgesia suggest that, regardless of whether parturition is assisted, a single dose of ketoprofen in the immediate postpartum period improves cow comfort in the first 48h after parturition.