Effect of prepartum exercise on lying behavior, labor length, and cortisol concentrations.J Dairy Sci 2019; 102(12):11250-11259JD
The objective of this study was to assess the effect of exercise and pasture turnout on lying behavior, labor length, and cortisol concentrations around the time of parturition in dairy cows. Twenty-nine primiparous and 31 multiparous, pregnant, nonlactating Holstein (n = 58) and Jersey × Holstein cross (n = 2) dairy cows were assigned to control (n = 20), exercise (n = 20), or pasture (n = 20) treatments at dry-off using rolling enrollment. Control cows remained in the dry cow group pen. Exercise cows were removed from the dry cow group pen 5 times per week and walked for 1.4 ± 0.1 h at 1.88 ± 0.58 km/h. Pasture cows were moved to an outdoor paddock 5 times per week for 1.8 ± 0.3 h/d. Cows were housed in deep-bedded sand freestalls in a naturally ventilated, 4-row freestall barn. Cows were moved into maternity pens on the day of projected calving or when cows displayed signs that calving was imminent (restlessness, raised or lifted tail, ruptured amniotic sac, or swollen vulva), and treatments were discontinued. Cameras continuously recorded cows from entry into the pen until farm staff noted a calf, and one observer continuously watched video for two visually observable periods throughout the calving process: time from initial observation of amniotic sac to initial observation of calf's feet, and time from initial observation of calf's feet to full expulsion of calf. Assisted calvings were excluded. Accelerometers were attached to the rear fetlocks of cows 3 d before dry-off and removed 14 d postpartum. Activity was summarized by day for the 7 d before and after delivery time recorded from video observation into lying time (hours per day), lying bout frequency (bouts per day), lying bout duration (minutes per bout), and steps (number per day). Plasma total cortisol concentration was measured on d 0 and 3 postpartum and determined by a radioimmunoassay procedure using a commercially available kit. Data were analyzed using mixed linear model. During calving, time from appearance of the amniotic sac to appearance of the calf's feet was longer for pasture cows compared with control. Control cows engaged in fewer lying bouts and less overall lying time compared with pasture and exercise cows. Cortisol concentrations were higher on the day of calving compared with 3 d later, regardless of treatment. Understanding the effects of lying alterations around calving and increases in labor period length may allow for physical activity recommendations for late-gestation dairy cows.