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Hide and Seek or Seeking to Hide?
    Presentation by Dr. Kathryn Proudfoot, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of PEI, Western Canadian Dairy Seminar
For many producers it is common knowledge that cows in natural settings choose to give birth in secluded, protected settings. However, this behaviour has been proven by research done by Dr. Kathryn Proudfoot. Dr. Proudfoot’s current research focuses on maternal behaviour of cows and maternity pen design. The motivation for her research comes from two main ideas: “The cow’s experience during labour affects the calf,” and “the environment a calf is born into may matter.” The former is backed up by numerous studies indicating calves born from unfavourable conditions such as dystocia are at greater risk for disease. The latter lacks research but suggests that hygiene may be more important than the type of maternity pen (e.g., group vs. individual pen).
During her recent presentation at the virtual Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, Dr. Proudfoot presented several interesting studies involving the use of ‘hides’ in maternity pens by both cows and calves. A ‘hide’ is what it sounds like, an additional
shelter or barrier to give cows the sense of protection and seclusion they seek out. The shape of a hide can vary in complexity from plywood to make a box stall with a window, to a water filled ‘Jersey road barrier.’ (Just to clarify, a ‘Jersey road barrier’ is named for the state, and not the dairy breed.) The majority of cows in an individual setting chose to give birth in the corner of a box stall surrounded by a plywood corner. However, the opposite was true for pasture-based cows in New Zealand offered hides at night in a large group pen, 80% of cows birthed outside the hides. In a video of the New Zealand study, a cow can be seen giving birth outside a hide, and an hour later, moving inside the
hide with her calf. A majority of the New Zealand cow-calf pairs moved inside the hides within a few hours of birth. A study in Denmark found comparable results, as well as finding that the calf enters the hide first, “potentially the calf is looking for somewhere to hide.” A study at the University of Florida, found that calves will also seek hiding spaces after dehorning, even with the use of pain medication. Perhaps we should be allowing our calves the opportunity to play more hide and seek...
In a study between Ohio State University and the W.H. Miner Agricultural Institute, Jersey road barriers were filled with water and topped with plywood to create a taller
Jersey road barrier with additional plywood. Right: foldable L shaped hides used in New Zealand study. Photos courtesy of Dr. Proudfoot.
hide that allows privacy, but also easily allows the cow to see her pen mates if she chooses to. This particular study compared behaviours between low and high stocking densities and can be summed up nicely, “Cows like to hide.” When given more space, cows took it! Perhaps most interesting to producers is that cows with the most space and a hide had the shortest labour. While it is still unknown whether the time difference – 16 minutes – is relevant to the cow or calf, we can look forward to future presentations from Dr. Proudfoot which will answer questions raised in this presentation. But here is a question we can answer; what’s a calf’s favourite game? Hide and seek!
Siobhan Mellors, B.Sc. (Agr.) M.Sc Student (Animal Biosciences) University of Guelph
Siobhan is currently studying milk replacer formulations and the effect of different fatty acid profiles on gut development and permeability.
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