Parturition progress and behaviours in dairy cows with calving difficulty

A. C. Barrier, M. J. Haskell, A. I. Macrae, C. M. Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The welfare of dairy cows and their calves is compromised following a difficult calving. A better understanding of what happens during a difficult calving is needed to help prevent and alleviate adverse consequences through early diagnosis and/or pain mitigation. The objectives of this study were to investigate the calving progress and parturition behaviours (with emphasis on potential pain indicators) in cows during normal or difficult calvings, and to describe human intervention in dystocial cows. The following video footage of calvings leading to singleton liveborn calves was used: 12 FN (farmer assisted no calf malpresentation) and 7 FM (farmer assisted with calf malpresentation), each paired to a non-assisted calving (N). Three observation periods relative to full expulsion of the calf (A: -6 h to -5:30 h; B: -4 h to -3 h; C: -2 h to birth) were observed continuously for 38 calvings. Duration from appearance of calves' feet until birth did not differ between scores of difficulty (median time in min; N: 54.7; FN: 101.3; FM: 194.0; P > 0.05) but there was large individual variability. As early as period B, FN and FM cows displayed more contractions than N cows and this was also the case for FN cows in period C but not for FM cows (P <0.05). FN cows were also more restless (counts of postural transitions) than N cows during periods B and C (P <0.05). Overall, FM cows raised their tail for longer (in % of observation time; N: 33.7 +/- 4.2; FN: 42.7 +/- 5.1; FM: 54.0 +/- 7.0; P <0.05) compared to N cows, and FN cows tended to lie down for longer (P <0.10). There was no effect of calving difficulty on self-grooming, ingestive, lying to standing transitions, exploratory (lick ground and sniffing) or "irritation" behaviours (stamping, tail switching, rubbing, turning head back). The median duration of intervention in dystocial cows varied greatly among animals (median time: 4.7 min; range: 30 s to 35 min) and thresholds were in line with current recommendations. Dystocial cows were in later stages of labour for longer and expressed some of the behaviours differently over the course of parturition. These may relate to different pain levels when dystocia occurs and could also be used in the early detection of calving difficulty. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-217
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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