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|Title: ||Effects of a difficult calving on the subsequent health and welfare of the dairy cows and calves|
|Authors: ||Barrier, Alice Cécile Madeleine|
|Supervisor(s): ||Macrae, Alastair|
|Issue Date: ||30-Jun-2012|
|Publisher: ||The University of Edinburgh|
|Abstract: ||Yearly calvings are essential to the sustainability of modern dairy farming. Currently,
calving difficulty (or dystocia) affects one in six calvings among UK dairy herds but
vary from 2 to 50% internationally. In dairy cows, despite reports of impaired
performance, the extent and threshold of the effect of dystocia on health and
performance remains unclear. Over the past years, there has also been increasing
concerns about the levels of pain experienced by the dystocial cows. Better
understanding of their parturition progress and behaviours is needed so that informed
decisions on pain mitigation can be taken. Additionally, the impact of dystocia (besides
stillbirth) should also be addressed in dairy calves. The objective of this study was to
address the effects of a difficult calving on the health and welfare of both dairy cows and
Retrospective analyses of an experimental farm’s detailed records were used to relate
calving difficulty with health and performance of the dairy cow. The results showed that
after any difficulty at calving, dairy producers incur long-lasting shortfalls in milk sales.
Dystocial cows also have impaired fertility, are more likely to leave the herd early and
have a higher risk of dystocia at the following calving, thus there is a long-term
detrimental impact on dystocial cows.
Video monitoring of calvings allowed detailed investigation of the parturition progress
and behaviours of dystocial Holstein cows giving birth to singleton liveborn calves. The
study of calving behaviours and parturition progress indicated longer later stages of
parturition, increased restlessness and tail raising in the six hours preceding expulsion of
the calf, for dystocial cows receiving farm assistance compared with cows calving
unaided. This may relate to the expression of higher levels of pain when dystocia occurs.
The onset of maternal behaviour was not delayed following calving difficulty, and firm
conclusions could not be drawn from investigation of some behavioural indicators of
pain in the first three hours postpartum.
Experimental work allowed the monitoring of a cohort of 496 calves born with various
degrees of birth difficulty over two years. All but one vet assisted calves were born dead, and farmer assisted calves were more likely to be stillborn than calves born without
assistance. Stillborn dystocial calves displayed larger internal damage, than stillborn
eutocial calves, but they did not have a different body shape at birth than dystocial
calves that survived. Dystocial dairy calves that survived the birth process had lower
vigour at birth, had higher salivary cortisol, acquired lower passive immunity and
received more health treatments in the neonatal period. Dystocial heifers also had higher
mortality rates by weaning but had similar growth to first service.
Historical records from the farm also showed that dystocial heifer calves were three
times more likely to have died by weaning and by first service than calves born without
assistance. For those who survived, there was, however, no indication of altered growth
to weaning or subsequent impaired fertility. This may be explained by the early
mortality of the most badly affected calves or by farm management. However, their high
mortality rates still raise welfare concerns. Altogether, results suggest that dairy calves
born with any difficulty have poorer welfare in the neonatal period and possibly beyond.
The experience of any calving difficulty in dairy cattle therefore not only impairs the
welfare of the cow, but also the welfare from their resulting calf. Any strategy
implemented to lower the occurrence and mitigate the effects of dystocia will therefore
improve the welfare of the cows, their calves and enhance the farm’s economic
|Sponsor(s): ||Scottish Agricultural College (SAC)|
|Appears in Collections:||Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies thesis and dissertation collection|
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