Impacts of prenatal stress on dairy cows

Dry cow management survey

Dry cow management could affect not only the health and production of adult cows, but also the health and welfare of their calves for months and maybe even years ahead. Please help us to investigate this further, by visiting the website below to help us understand typical dry cow and pre-weaning calf management on UK dairy farms.

UK dairy producers have room for improvement with their heifer rearing, with 14.5% of liveborn heifer calves reported to fail to make it to their 1st lactation. Research in humans and other species has shown that stress during pregnancy (prenatal stress) and poor maternal nutritional state could have detrimental effects on the health and welfare of their offspring. Lowered birth weight, health problems, learning and behavioural problems have all been reported in offspring born to stressed mothers. In farm animals, pregnant sheep with poor health status give birth to lambs with lower birth weights. Piglets from socially stressed mothers showed higher reactivity to pain and stress, reduced post-weaning growth and impaired reproductive development. Such harmful outcomes of prenatal stress can compromise progeny health and welfare, and may have negative effects on farm production efficiency and financial performance.

So what about cows? Compared with other farm species, such information on cows is limited. There are some limited studies on prenatal stress, but we do not really know under what circumstances cows experience stress during pregnancy, and whether such stress could affect their calves. As a first step, researchers at Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh’s Veterinary School are trying to understand typical dairy cow management, in order that they can investigate whether some of the practices could result in harmful prenatal stress. The survey should take only 5–10 minutes, and you will be entered into a price draw to win £100.

Take the survey – www.sruc.ac.uk/drycow

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