The behavior of dairy cattle in the transition period: Effect of blood calcium status.

Rosemary Barraclough*, Darren J Shaw, Vivi M. Thorup, MJ Haskell, Wilson Lee, Alastair Macrae

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of this study was to use an automated behavior-monitoring system to objectively assess the association between lying and activity behavior in the precalving, calving, and postcalving periods between multiparous and primiparous cows with (1) normocalcemia, (2) subclinical hypocalcemia, or (3) clinical hypocalcemia at calving. Behavioral data and blood serum samples were collected from 51 multiparous and 21 primiparous Holstein dairy cattle. Blood samples from the coccygeal vein were taken within 24 h of calving, and serum was analyzed to measure total calcium concentration. Cows were classified into one of 3 categories: normocalcemia (serum calcium concentration ≥ 2.0 mmol/L), subclinical hypocalcemia (serum calcium concentration < 2.0 mmol/L, absence of clinical signs), and clinical hypocalcemia (clinical signs and successful treatment). An activity sensor was fitted to the right hind leg of cows 3 wk before their expected calving date. Data for lying time, standing time, number of steps, and the total number of standing and lying bouts (postural transitions) were automatically collected and summed into 15-min blocks. Behavioral variables were summarized into 2-h and 24-h periods before analyses. Mixed effect models were used to analyze cow behavior in the entire 14 d before calving (d −14 to −1), on the day of calving, and the entire 21 d postcalving (d 1 to 21). In the precalving period, multiparous cows with normocalcemia had fewer postural transitions (18.5 ± 6.9 no./d) compared with cows with subclinical hypocalcemia (23.5 ± 8.0 no./d) and clinical hypocalcemia (23.5 ± 8.6 no./d). However, there was no association between blood calcium status on lying time (min/d) or step count (no./d) for multiparous cows. For primiparous cows, the step count of cows with subclinical hypocalcemia remained constant across the period, and the step count of cows with normocalcemia decreased from 842.8 steps/d on d −14 to 427.5 steps/d on d −1. Postpartum cows with clinical hypocalcemia were less active (fewer steps) and spent 88 min/d (1.5 h) and 125 min/d (2.1 h) more time lying down compared with cows with subclinical hypocalcemia and normocalcemia, respectively. This shows that clinical hypocalcemia is associated with significant long-lasting behavioral effects on cows during the critical postpartum period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10604-10613
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
Early online date5 Sept 2020
Publication statusPrint publication - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • calving
  • dairy cow
  • hypocalcemia
  • transition period


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