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Svensson, Elin, 2022. Evaluation of bonding and maternal behaviours in cattle : swedish dairy cows in a cow-calf contact system. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Animal Environment and Health



In today’s commercial dairy production, it is common practice to separate the cow and calf a few hours after parturition. There is, however, increased interest from both farmers and consumers, to keep the cow and calf together for a longer period while still maintaining dairy production, because it is perceived as more animal friendly. This puts a higher demand on the cow to rear the calf and it is required that the cow show maternal behaviours and can bond with and take care of the calf. Since the dairy cow has been separated from the calf for generations, the selection for maternal behaviours may have been less rigid.
This study aimed to investigate the maternal behaviours of modern dairy cows and assess bonding behaviours between cow and calf as well as to investigate breed and parity differences in the expression of maternal behaviours. A total of 10 Swedish Red (SR) and 9 Swedish Holstein (SH) cows with either a female (n = 15) or male calf (n = 4) were included in the study. The animals were housed in a cow-calf contact system from 48 hours after birth. Maternal-filial interactions were observed at the maternity pen when the calves were one day old. A preference test was used at 4 weeks of age to assess the time that calves spent in proximity of the mother cow in comparison to an unfamiliar cow (calf test) and to assess the preference of the mother for her calf over an unfamiliar calf (cow test). A neophobia test to determine the calves’ use of the mother as a secure base to explore was performed at 5 weeks of age. Data were analysed in R using Generalized Linear Models (count data) and Generalized Linear Mixed Models (continuous data).
On the first day after birth, SR cows sniffed their calves more than SH cows (Deviance 54.992, p<0.01), and multiparous (MP) cows vocalized more than primiparous (PP) cows (Deviance 138.078, p<0.05). In the calf preference test, calves of PP cows sniffed the unfamiliar cow more often than calves of MP cows (Deviance 3.9359, p <0.05). SR calves vocalized more than SH calves (Deviance 21.0147, p<0.01), and male calves vocalized more than female calves (Deviance 22.768, p<0.01). Also, SR calves were closer to their mothers for a longer period (F1,14=5.3897, p<0.05). In the cow preference test, the SR cows were sniffed more often by the unfamiliar calves in the choice pen than the SH cows, i.e the unfamiliar calves interacted more with the tested cow when SR cows were tested (Deviance 8.2290, p<0.01). MP cows were sniffed more often by their calves compared to PP cows (Deviance 5.0111, p<0.05). Males calves were also more vocal during the cow test (Deviance 26.942, p<0.05). Cows with female calves were faster to leave the start box (F1,12 = 5.4634, p<0.05). During the neophobia test, cows with a male calf spent more time in the buckets (F1,14=8.0770, p<0.05), ate more concentrate (F1,13 = 6.2011, p<0.05) and kept a longer distance to their calves, compared to female pairs (F1,14=8.4190, p<0.05). Furthermore, the calves of PP cows explored more and spent more time in the buckets (F1,14=5.7627, p<0.05).
After studying the maternal behaviours and bonding in the modern dairy cows it was found that SR cows and calves displayed a stronger filial bond and that cow parity also played a role in the expression of bonding behaviours. Due to inbalanced number of male and female calves no conclusion can be made regarding sex effects.
Further studies on bonding behaviour development in cow-calf systems and its impact on later social behaviours are encouraged.

Main title:Evaluation of bonding and maternal behaviours in cattle
Subtitle:swedish dairy cows in a cow-calf contact system
Authors:Svensson, Elin
Supervisor:de Oliveira, Daiana and Verbeek, Else
Examiner:Hernandez, Carlos
Volume/Sequential designation:UNSPECIFIED
Year of Publication:2022
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:VY008 Agriculture Programme - Animal Science, 300.0hp
Supervising department:(VH) > Dept. of Animal Environment and Health
Keywords:cow-calf contact, cow-calf bonding, maternal behaviours, preference test, dairy production
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Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Animal husbandry
Deposited On:16 May 2022 07:42
Metadata Last Modified:17 May 2022 01:01

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