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Open Access Research article

Characterisation of physiological and immunological responses in beef cows to abrupt weaning and subsequent housing

Eilish M Lynch12, Bernadette Earley1*, Mark McGee3 and Sean Doyle2

Author Affiliations

1 Animal and Bioscience Department, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Grange, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

2 Department of Biology and National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology, National University of Ireland Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland

3 Livestock Systems Research Department, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Grange, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

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BMC Veterinary Research 2010, 6:37  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-37

Published: 20 July 2010

Abstract

Background

Weaning involves the permanent separation of the calf from the dam and has been shown to be stressful for both. The objectives of this study were to characterise the effect of i) abrupt weaning and ii) subsequent housing on the extended physiological and immunological responses of beef cows. At weaning (day (d) 0, mean age of calf (s.d.) 212 (24.5) d), cows were abruptly separated from their calves and returned to the grazing area. After 35 d at pasture, cows were housed in a slatted floor shed and offered grass silage ad libitum plus a mineral-vitamin supplement daily. Rectal body temperature was recorded and blood samples were obtained on i) d 0 (weaning), 2, 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and subsequently on ii) d 0 (housing), 2, 7, 14 and 21 for physiological, haematological and immunological measurements.

Results

Post-weaning, concentration of cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone were unchanged (P > 0.05). Rectal body temperature, neutrophil number and neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio increased (P < 0.01) on d 2 compared with pre-weaning baseline. Lymphocyte and neutrophil number decreased (P < 0.05) on d 2 to 7 and d 7 to 21, respectively, compared with pre-weaning baseline. Interferon-γ production decreased (P < 0.05) on d 2 compared with pre-weaning baseline. An increase (P < 0.05) in acute phase proteins, fibrinogen and haptoglobin was evident on d 2 to 35 compared with pre-weaning baseline. Concentration of glucose increased on d 2 to 28, whereas non-esterified fatty acid decreased on d 2 to 35 compared with pre-weaning baseline. Post-housing, concentrations of cortisol, rectal body temperature, total leukocyte number, and glucose were unchanged (P > 0.05). On d 2 post-housing, neutrophil number and neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio increased (P < 0.05), whereas lymphocyte number and concentrations of dehydroepiandrosterone, fibrinogen and non-esterified fatty acid decreased (P < 0.05) compared with pre-housing baseline. Concentration of haptoglobin increased (P < 0.05) on d 14 to 21 post-housing.

Conclusions

A transitory increase in neutrophil number and decrease in lymphocyte number, increased neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio coupled with decreased interferon-γ production, and increased concentration of acute phase proteins indicate a stress response in cows post-weaning, whereas post-housing, changes were less marked.