Bovine parturition: welfare and production implications of assistance and ketoprofen analgesia

Gladden, Nicola Louise (2021) Bovine parturition: welfare and production implications of assistance and ketoprofen analgesia. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Parturition is a necessary event for productive dairy cows (and their calves) and assisted parturition is common. Although difficult parturition is believed by farmers and veterinary surgeons to be painful and stressful for cows and their calves, data to support this view are limited. Previous studies typically analysed the effects of assistance or analgesia as individual effects but inclusion of both in a factorial design is rare, so the association between pain and parturition assistance is not certain. Furthermore, there is a paucity of studies investigating calf birth-related experiences in general, and available work typically focuses on health and productivity rather than more sensitive measures of welfare (e.g. behaviour). Differences in study design further challenge the interpretation and practical application of available data; most studies refer to ‘dystocia’, but definitions of this term vary widely and important differences between veterinary and farmer provided assistance are not always acknowledged. Accordingly, it is currently difficult to develop evidence based recommendations for farmers and veterinary surgeons regarding the value of analgesic provision to cows and calves around parturition.

Farmers are recommended to closely monitor cows that may need assisted parturition to enable intervention to be optimised; however, this can be difficult to achieve particularly if staff availability is limited, and it is currently not possible to accurately predict when cows will give birth, or whether they are likely to need assistance. As such, some cows that experience difficult parturition may not receive timely assistance and conversely, some cows may be assisted unnecessarily — both are situations that may challenge welfare.

The studies presented in this thesis aimed to investigate the effects of farmer-assisted parturition and administration of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen on the welfare, health, and productivity of commercially managed Holstein dairy cows and calves (Bos taurus) using a 2 x 2 factorial study design. Further work aimed to support the findings of initial studies using accelerometer generated data to analyse behavioural patterns of cows and calves for up to 48 h postpartum. A final aim was to assess the potential for data generated by animal-worn accelerometers to detect cows that are likely to need farmer-provided assistance at parturition.

Cows and calves subject to farmer-assisted and unassisted parturition were randomly assigned to receive either ketoprofen or saline within 3 h of parturition. Behaviour in the first 48 h postpartum was analysed using focal instantaneous sampling (visual observations) to investigate welfare outcomes. Detailed behavioural analysis was complemented with analysis of biomarkers indicative of health and welfare status (cortisol, creatine kinase [cows and calves]; L-lactate, plasma total protein [calves only]) in the first 7 d postpartum. Regardless of ketoprofen treatment, cows and calves subject to assisted birth showed behavioural differences consistent with a reduced welfare state (increased lateral recumbency [both] and reduced play [calves only]), compared to unassisted animals. Additionally, the plasma cortisol concentration of assisted cows was higher than unassisted cows immediately after parturition, suggesting assisted parturition is associated with heightened maternal stress. Irrespective of assistance status, cows and calves treated with ketoprofen engaged in behaviours consistent with pain and reduced welfare less than saline treated animals. Additionally, ketoprofen treated cows engaged in lying postures suggestive of improved comfort, and ketoprofen treated calves engaged in play behaviour more than saline treated cows and calves respectively (regardless of assistance status) — suggesting that all cows and calves experience pain after parturition that can be improved by ketoprofen. Results of further work using accelerometers to continuously monitor behaviour for 48 h after parturition corroborated these findings — ketoprofen treated cows and calves were more active than saline treated animals and ketoprofen treated calves engaged in increased play behaviour. Health and productivity data for cows and calves recruited in initial work were obtained from farm records: cow data were collected until the end of the subsequent lactation (approximately one year), calf data were collected until the end of the first lactation (approximately three years). Regardless of treatment status, parturition assistance was associated with increased postpartum disease and reduced maternal reproductive performance in the subsequent lactation. Birth assistance was associated with poorer growth of calves before first parturition and reduced reproductive performance in the first lactation (irrespective of treatment status). Ketoprofen treated cows had a 305 d mature equivalent milk yield 664 kg higher than saline treated cows, irrespective of assistance status. Ketoprofen treatment did not affect measures of calf productivity overall but ketoprofen treated assisted calves had a growth rate to weaning 0.1 kg/d higher than calves in the other assistance x treatment status interaction groups.

Accelerometer generated data (primarily step count) showed potential for detection of cows more likely to need assistance, although a threshold for detection could not be established with high accuracy. Additionally, the number of lying bouts exhibited by cows in the last 12 h of gestation showed promise for predicting the timing of parturition. These data suggest that leg-worn accelerometers may be a valuable tool to aid pre-partum management of dairy cows, and the results presented here offer a starting point for the development of pre-partum specific algorithms for use in future remote devices.

Collectively, the results presented in these studies indicate that parturition assistance is negatively associated with welfare and future productivity of cows and calves, and that ketoprofen administration immediately after parturition has beneficial effects on these outcomes. However, observed interaction effects were few, suggesting that a) farmer-assisted cows and calves experience challenges to welfare that extend beyond pain (i.e. challenges that cannot be manipulated using analgesia), and b) pain is experienced by all cows and calves after parturition, not just those that are assisted. These findings suggest that assistance at parturition should be provided judiciously and not be a routine management intervention. Furthermore, these results provide a robust basis on which inclusion of ketoprofen administration in parturition and newborn calf management protocols can be recommended to dairy farmers and veterinary surgeons seeking to optimise the welfare and productivity of Holstein cows and calves managed in a housed dairy system.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by funding from the University of Glasgow James Herriot Scholarship Fund, the James Crawford Endowment Fund, Merial Animal Health and Ceva Animal Health.
Subjects: S Agriculture > SF Animal culture > SF600 Veterinary Medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Veterinary Medicine
Supervisor's Name: Ellis, Dr. Kathryn and McKeegan, Dr. Dorothy
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82619
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2022 16:21
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2022 16:59
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82619
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