The effect of behavioural indicators of calf discomfort following routine procedures on cow maternal care

SP Turner, K McIlvaney, JE Donbavand, Matt Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


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 hours 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 showed 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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number87
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jan 2020
Publication statusPrint publication - Jan 2020


  • Castration
  • Cattle
  • Empathy
  • Maternal behaviour
  • Pain


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