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Heart Rate Variability: A biomarker of dairy calf welfare

Lookup NU author(s): Jim Clapp, Chris Dolphin


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Dairy calf welfare is recognised to be compromised from common management practices. In this study heart rate variability (HRV) was used to measure stress in 25 young dairy calves to quantify the degraded welfare they experienced from weaning separation and isolation also the painful disbudding procedure. It was shown the time spent on the cow before separation had a significant negative correlation to HRV (r2 = -0.68, p = 0.03). The longer a calf spent in isolation the lower its HRV three days after joining a group pen (p = 0.037). The removal of a dummy teat elicited a significant drop in HRV (p = 0.05), identifying the addictive properties of sucking in calves. Post disbudding stress, reflected by declining HRV values, was only partly alleviated by the NSAID meloxicam after 48hrs. The findings showed calf welfare would be improved by reducing the time between birth and separation also the days spent in single pens. Providing dummy teats for individually housed calves showed potential as a positive environmental enrichment. Meloxicam may improve welfare by alleviating some chronic pain following hot iron disbudding. We conclude these findings illustrate that HRV, as a science-based animal-centric biomarker of animal welfare, may be used to help improve farmed animal practice.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Clapp JB, Croarkin S, Dolphin C, Lyons SK

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Production Science

Year: 2014

Online publication date: 21/10/2014

Acceptance date: 08/08/2014

ISSN (print): 1836-0939

ISSN (electronic): 1836-5787

Publisher: CSIRO Publishing


DOI: 10.1071/AN14093


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