Precalving temperament and maternal defensiveness are independent traits but precalving fear may impact calf growth

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Human safety can be compromised by the response of beef cows to handling or when defending their calf. However, little is known about how precalving temperament, postcalving defensiveness, and maternal care are related. The impacts of cow temperament on calf neonatal vigor and ADG are also unknown. Data were collected on 2 farms (Farm 1, n = 143, 1 parity; Farm 2, n = 237, 2 parities). Temperament was recorded before calving when restrained in a crush (crush score), on exit from the crush (flight speed), and when isolated with a handler. Defensiveness was recorded within 4 d after calving during handling of the calf. Maternal interactions with the calf and calf vigor were recorded for 3 h after calving (Farm 1 only) and ADG was measured over 7 mo. Crush score and flight speed were repeatable within a parity (range in repeatability 0.33 to 0.49; P < 0.001). Crush score (0.50; P < 0.001) and defensiveness (up to 0.71; P < 0.001) were repeatable across parities. Temperament and defensiveness were unrelated on Farm 1; on Farm 2 a fearful crush score was associated with heightened defensiveness as measured by vigorous movement during calf handling (P < 0.001). Temperament and defensiveness were unrelated to calving ease or the amount of maternal behavior shown to the calf. At Farm 1, cows that exited the crush quickly had calves with a lighter birth weight (P = 0.023) and those that were agitated when isolated had calves with a decreased ADG (P = 0.017). Defensiveness was unrelated to ADG and neither temperament nor defensiveness affected calf vigor. Cow precalving temperament and postcalving defensiveness are repeatable but appear to be independent traits, neither of which is related to maternal interactions with the neonatal calf. Reducing precalving fearfulness should not affect postcalving behavior and changing postcalving defensiveness should not affect other maternal care traits. Fearful cows may produce calves with decreased birth weight and ADG, which, if confirmed, suggests that cow fearfulness may have wider economic implications than previously realized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4417 - 4425
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPrint publication - Sept 2013

Bibliographical note



  • Cattle
  • Defensiveness
  • Docility
  • Maternal behaviour
  • Vigor


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