Maternal behavior in beef cattle: The physiology, assessment and future directions—a review

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Bovine maternal behavior is known to be influenced by a variety of factors including hormonal mediation, breed, age, parity, host genetics and general management practices. Following centuries of varying levels of domestication processes, the behavior of the bovine cow has altered from that of her original wild ungulate ancestors, although many maternal instincts have remained unchanged. The influence of maternal behavior on calf health and performance is of interest to cow-calf beef production operations, as in most instances, the cow is solely responsible for rearing the calf until weaning. However, investigating the magnitude of this influence is challenging, in part because objective measurement of behavioral traits is difficult, particularly in extensive settings. In recent years, while a number of remote monitoring devices have been developed that afford opportunities for objective measurement of behavioral traits in livestock, characterization of physiological mechanisms that underlie superior maternal behavior, including identification of potential biomarkers remains elusive in cattle. Hormonal profiles during the periparturient period have been shown to influence behavioral patterns in both current and future generations in other mammalian species and may provide insights into the physiology of bovine maternal behavior. Therefore, the aim of this review is to describe general characteristics of bovine maternal behavior and the factors known to influence it, including hormonal drivers, through which cross-reference to other species is made. Current methods of measuring and assessing behavior that may also be applicable to most production settings have also been reviewed. At present, there is no known hormonal assay that can be used to measure and/or reliably predict bovine maternal behavior post-calving or across generations. Being able to objectively assess superior maternal behavior, whether that be through remote monitoring, hormonal profiling or indirectly through measuring calf performance will be beneficial to livestock industries in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Number of pages25
JournalVeterinary Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date24 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


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