Dairy animals are subjected to a number of potential stressors throughout their lives, including daily interactions with humans. The quality of these interactions may have direct consequences for the animal undergoing the experience, but if such events occur during gestation it may also affect the developing fetus. This study examined the effects of differential handling during mid-gestation in 40 twin-bearing Saanen × Toggenburg primiparous goats. Between days 80 and 115 of gestation (gestation = 150 days), goats were subjected to aversive (AVS, n = 13), gentle (GEN, n = 13) or minimal (M, n = 14) handling protocols for 10 minute periods twice daily. The control (M) group did not receive handling treatments and all goats received normal husbandry procedures outside treatment periods. Salivary cortisol measured during the treatment period was higher in AVS goats (mean cortisol (sem) in pg/μl: AVS: 176.7 (18.2), GEN: 119.6 (11.1), M: 126.5 (13.7); P = 0.007). Data collection was focussed on mother-offspring behaviors 2 h post-partum, placental morphology and colostrum quality. AVS goats were the only treatment group to suffer fetal loss (16% loss vs 0% in GEN and M, P = 0.05). Treatment also influenced placental morphology with a tendency for fewer cotyledons evident in placentae from the aversive treatment (AVS: 87.9 (7.8), GEN: 107.1 (7.9), M: 112.1 (9.3), P = 0.093), and significantly fewer medium sized cotyledons (AVS: 67.6 (7.8), GEN: 89.3 (6.4), M: 84.3 (5.4), P = 0.042). GEN goats displayed more grooming and nosing behaviors towards their young during the first 2 h post-partum (grooming: GEN: 89.3% (7.1), AVS: 72.6% (7.7), M: 63.4% (9.0), P = 0.045; nosing frequency: GEN: 58.8 (12.5), AVS: 28.6 (11.1), M: 34.7 (6.5), P = 0.021). There was an overall trend for kids from mothers experiencing the AVS treatment to take longer to stand, reach the udder and suck compared to kids from GEN and M treatment groups. Treatment significantly affected latency to perform play behavior, with kids from AVS goats taking on average 25 min longer to play for the first time than kids from GEN and M treatment groups (P < 0.001). The results show that handling during gestation affects placental morphology, fetal survival and post-partum maternal behaviors, and influences kid behavioral development. Such results have important animal welfare implications, demonstrating that negative handling of pregnant females results in poorer placental quality with potential for fetal loss. It also demonstrates the beneficial effects of positive handling on enhancement of maternal behaviors.
- Prenatal stress