The behavior of dairy cattle in late gestation: effects of parity and dystocia

Rosemary Barraclough*, Darren Shaw, Robert Boyce, MJ Haskell, Alastair Macrae

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of this study was to objectively assess, using an automated behavioral monitoring system, any behavioral differences between primiparous and multiparous cows before calving, and to quantify any behavioral differences between assisted (dystocic) and unassisted (eutocic) calvings. Data were collected from 32 multiparous and 12 primiparous Holstein dairy cattle to describe normal calving behavior and parity differences. To quantify behavior related to calving difficulty, the data from 14 animals that had dystocia at calving were matched to cows that had an eutocic calving based on parity, locomotion score, calf breed, calf sex, month, and year of calving. An IceQube (IceRobotics Ltd., South Queensferry, United Kingdom) was fitted to the right hind leg of cows 4 wk prior to their expected calving date. Data for lying time, standing time, number of steps, motion index (total motion), and the total number of standing and lying bouts (postural transitions) were automatically collected and summed into 15-minute blocks. Behavioral variables were summarized into 2h periods and 24h periods prior to analyses. Mixed-effect models were used to analyze cow behavior in the last 4 d before calving (d -4 to d -1), and on the day of calving. In the 4 d prior to calving, compared to multiparous cows, primiparous cows lay down an average 2.8h/d less, had 9.1 more postural transitions/d (37.7 ± 1.2 vs. 27.6 ± 0.7), walked 172 more steps/d, and had a higher motion index (2673.2 unit/d vs 1981.5 unit/d). There was an effect of 2h period on all behavioral variables on the day of calving. No indicator of calving difficulty was found on the day of calving, nor the days leading up to calving. These findings suggest that parity should be considered when predicting the day of calving, and changes in cow behavior on the day of calving could be used to identify calving cows, and to predict the time of calving.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)714-722
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2019
Publication statusPrint publication - Jan 2020


  • Calving behaviour
  • Parturition
  • Calving assistance
  • Dairy cow


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