Interpretive Summary: Locomotion behavior changes in peripartum beef cows and heifers
By: Megan LaFollette
In February 2019, Journal of Animal Science published an article that investigated the potential use of electronic location monitors to detect calving in beef cows and heifers. Currently, about 20% of reported beef calf deaths before weaning that were not attributed to predators are caused by calving difficulties. If the calving period could be identified earlier and more accurately, then humans could intervene to help minimize negative impacts – thereby reducing calf deaths. In dairy cows, electronic monitors have successfully and economically been used to detect calving. However, there has been little work validating the use of these monitors in beef cows and heifers. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if beef cows and heifers have increased locomotion prior to calving as detected by electronic location monitors.
This study included three experiments with Sim-Angus cross bed females that were calving in either the spring or fall and were either in their first or multiple pregnancy. Several methods were consistently used in all experiments. During the calving season, pregnant females were housed in drylots with 8 to 15 animals with free access to hay or haylage. Pregnant females were fitted with electronic activity monitors (IceQube) at least 3 days before calving. In all cases, the calving process was closely monitored and time of birth noted. These activity monitors recorded various behavioral parameters for 72 hours before calving including motion index, standing time, lying time, step count, and number of lying bouts per hour.
Results from these experiments showed several changes in locomotion prior to calving in beef cattle. In terms of day, motion index, standing time, step count, and lying bouts increased in the 24 hours before calving when compared to 2 to 3 days before calving. On the day of calving, motion index, standing time, step counts, and lying bouts increased in the 6 hours just before calving. Finally, within the last 6 hours, the number of lying bouts doubled in the last 2 hours before calving, regardless of parity.
Overall, this study indicates that beef cattle do have increased locomotion prior to calving. In particular, the most reliable indicator of calving seems to be increases in the number of lying bouts, which especially increase during the last 2-4 hours before calving. These results were fairly consistent between calving season (spring or fall) and parity. Therefore, electronic activity monitors can detect changes in beef heifers and cattle prior to calving. Although more research is needed, these monitors seem to hold promise in early detection of calving in beef cattle.
To view the full article, visit the Journal of Animal Science.