Pre-calving temperament and maternal defensiveness are independent traits but pre-calving fear may impact calf growth

S P Turner, M C Jack, A B Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Human safety can be compromised by the response of beef cows to handling or when defending their calf. However, little is known about how pre-calving temperament, post-calving defensiveness and maternal care are related. The impacts of cow temperament on calf neonatal vigor and ADG are also unknown. Data were collected on 2 farms (Farm 1, n = 143, 1 parity; Farm 2, n = 237, 2 parities). Temperament was recorded pre-calving when restrained in a crush (crush score), on exit from the crush (flight speed) and when isolated with a handler. Defensiveness was recorded within 4 d post-calving during handling of the calf. Maternal interactions with the calf and calf vigor were recorded for 3 h post-calving (Farm 1 only) and ADG was measured over 7 mo. Crush score and flight speed were repeatable within a parity (range in repeatability 0.33 to 0.49, P <0.001). Crush score (0.50, P <0.001) and defensiveness (up to 0.71, P <0.001) were repeatable across parities. Temperament and defensiveness were unrelated on Farm 1; on Farm 2 a fearful crush score was associated with heightened defensiveness as measured by vigorous movement during calf handling (P <0.001). Temperament and defensiveness were unrelated to calving ease or the amount of maternal behavior shown to the calf. At Farm 1, cows which exited the crush quickly had calves with a lower birth weight (P = 0.023) and those which were agitated when isolated had calves with a lower ADG (P = 0.017). Defensiveness was unrelated to ADG and neither temperament nor defensiveness affected calf vigor. Cow pre-calving temperament and post-calving defensiveness are repeatable but appear to be independent traits, neither of which are related to maternal interactions with the neonatal calf. Reducing pre-calving fearfulness should not affect post-calving behavior and changing post-calving defensiveness should not affect other maternal care traits. Fearful cows may produce calves with a lower birth weight and ADG which, if confirmed, suggests that cow fearfulness may have wider economic implications than previously realized.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Volume3 July
Early online date3 Jul 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2013

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