Short communication: survival, growth to weaning, and subsequent fertility of live-born dairy heifers after a difficult birth

J Dairy Sci. 2012 Nov;95(11):6750-4. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5343. Epub 2012 Aug 29.


The experience of a difficult birth (dystocia) is traumatic and has adverse effects on the newborn in various species. Despite affecting up to 1 in 3 births in dairy cattle, studies on calves have been mostly limited to the first day of life. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of dystocia on the survival to calving, growth to weaning, and subsequent fertility as nulliparous animals. Historical data from live-born Holstein heifer calves born from cows with various birth difficulty scores (no assistance; moderate; high difficulty) were obtained from 2 herds (Edinburgh herd: n=1,237; Crichton Royal Farm herd: n=721). Each herd was analyzed separately for birth weights, weaning weights, growth rate to weaning, number of services to conception, and age at first calving using REML and generalized linear mixed model analyses. Survival analysis (Cox proportional hazards model) was used in the Edinburgh herd to analyze the subsequent survival of live-born heifers, whereas descriptive data are presented for the Crichton Royal Farm herd. A higher mortality risk to weaning and to first service was observed in the live-born heifers that experienced moderate difficulty at birth compared with heifers born naturally. Surviving dystocial heifers had similar growth-to-weaning and fertility performance as heifers born naturally in both herds. It could be that the performance of dystocial heifers that survived to weaning was not affected or that it was compensated for by farm management. This study highlights long-term effects of the early experience of a difficult birth and thereby stresses the importance of preventing dystocia not just from the point of view of the adult cow, but also from the perspective of the calf. This would also improve farm efficiency and calf welfare.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / growth & development*
  • Animals, Newborn / physiology
  • Cattle / growth & development*
  • Cattle / physiology
  • Dystocia / physiopathology
  • Dystocia / veterinary*
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Survival Analysis
  • Weaning