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Open AccessArticle

The Effect of Behavioural Indicators of Calf Discomfort Following Routine Procedures on Cow Maternal Care

1
SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College), Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK
2
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(1), 87; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010087
Received: 16 December 2019 / Revised: 23 December 2019 / Accepted: 27 December 2019 / Published: 6 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
Animals are believed to show empathy when witnessing others in pain. Painful experiences alter arousal and induce specific forms of behaviour to reduce pain. It is unclear if observers respond simply to the level of arousal or can detect differences in the expression of pain indicators. We explored whether beef cows adjust their care-giving behaviours dependent upon their calf’s expression of pain following ear tagging and (in males) castration. Greatest empathy is expected when witnessing aversive experiences in kin, and beef cows show vigorous maternal care shortly after calving. We therefore hypothesise that cows show increased maternal care towards calves that display the most behavioural evidence of pain. Observations were made for 20 min before and 30 min after tagging (and castration) of 58 calves. Increased arousal in the calf was associated with increased maternal care behaviour by the cow. However, the expression of pain indicator behaviours did not influence the cow’s behaviour. Males that had experienced castration did not receive more care than females. Cows seem to be insensitive to behaviours of their calf previously shown to indicate pain but this may be due to the subtlety of behavioural expression in young calves or the recent experience of calving.
Pain causes altered arousal and specific behaviours that are rare at other times (pain indicators). We examined whether beef cows (mean age 6 years) are sensitive to pain indicators in addition to arousal following ear tagging and rubber ring castration (males only, n = 31) of their calf (n = 58). Behavioural pain indicators and activity were recorded continuously for 20 min before and 2 h after handling. The 30 min period posthandling captured the peak of behavioural change during this window. Cow maternal and maintenance behaviours were recorded for 20 min before and for 30 min after calf handling. Principal component (PC) analysis identified two dimensions (48% of the variance) in calf behaviour. Arousal and two active pain indicators loaded onto PC1 were shown by linear mixed models to positively affect some maternal behaviours. Lethargy, passive pain indicators and further active pain indicators loaded onto PC2 did not affect cow behaviour. Castration did not result in male calves receiving more maternal attention. Cows alter maternal behaviour in response to calf activity but not behaviours previously shown to indicate pain. Maternal care peaks soon after calving, but recent calving stress or the subtlety of neonatal behavioural expression may constrain cows in responding to the individual behavioural expression of their calf. Future studies exploring empathy should be aware of the constraints on behavioural expression associated with the neonatal and periparturient period.
Keywords: maternal behaviour; cattle; castration; pain; empathy maternal behaviour; cattle; castration; pain; empathy
MDPI and ACS Style

Turner, S.P.; McIlvaney, K.; Donbavand, J.; Turner, M.J. The Effect of Behavioural Indicators of Calf Discomfort Following Routine Procedures on Cow Maternal Care. Animals 2020, 10, 87.

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