Minimally Invasive Markers of Stress and Production Parameters in Dairy Cows before and after the Installation of a Voluntary Milking System

Jerram, L J and Van Winden, S C L and Fowkes, R C (2020) Minimally Invasive Markers of Stress and Production Parameters in Dairy Cows before and after the Installation of a Voluntary Milking System. Animals, 10 (4). p. 589. ISSN 2076-2615

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Abstract

Automatic milking systems (AMS) are a low-labour alternative to conventional parlours, with previous studies demonstrating that cows vary in their ability to cope with the change to AMS. Cortisol expression can be combined with other measures to assess stress: saliva and hair have the advantage of requiring minimally invasive sampling. No work has investigated the long-term impact of introduction of AMS. The aims of the study were to assess short-term and chronic stress associated with a change in milking system by measuring salivary and hair cortisol levels and to assess the impact on health and production parameters. Cows from one farm changing their milking system were recruited to the study and sampled for saliva (n = 10) and hair (n = 12) before and after installation. Cortisol levels were measured using a salivary cortisol enzyme immunoassay kit. Body condition, lameness and milk parameters of the whole herd were regularly assessed. Salivary cortisol showed no diurnal pattern but was affected by lameness and gestation. Non-lame cows showed a reduction in salivary cortisol after AMS introduction (p < 0.001). Hair cortisol levels increased after AMS, but it was unclear if this change was seasonal. Milk yield increased by 13% and somatic cell count reduced by 28%. Body condition score was consistently good, but lameness remained high throughout the study. Production values alone do not represent high welfare. The high lameness and associated cortisol levels suggest that cow stress requires consideration when changing milking systems.

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