Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Livestock Issues Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #373292

Research Project: Nutritional Intervention and Management Strategies to Reduce Stress and Improve Health and Well-being in Cattle and Swine

Location: Livestock Issues Research

Title: Understanding stress and its effect on dairy cattle

item Carroll, Jeffery - Jeff Carroll
item Broadway, Paul
item Sanchez, Nicole

Submitted to: High Plains Beef Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/28/2020
Publication Date: 3/3/2020
Citation: Carroll, J.A., Broadway, P.R., Sanchez, N.C. 2020. Understanding stress and its effect on dairy cattle. High Plains Beef Conference. p. 56-60. Amarillo, TX, March 3-4, 2020.

Interpretive Summary: Reducing stress and maintaining healthy cows requires proactive measures such as managing body condition of the cows, providing adequate housing, and the use of nutritional supplements to help neutralize reactive oxygen species, reduce stress, reduce inflammation and boost immunity. When evaluating body condition of the herd, producers should not rely on the mean body condition as it can be misleading. Instead, evaluate the number of cows that are outside the acceptable body condition range. Likewise, consider individual animal variations that exist within the herd. A cow’s age, physical condition, health status, temperament, and social status can all have a significant impact on the magnitude of stress the cow is experiencing. The information presented will be of interest to livestock producers, veterinarians, and scientists working in the field of cattle stress and well-being.

Technical Abstract: Dairy cattle experience numerous environmental, managerial, and nutritional stressors throughout the production cycle that could potentially inhibit overall productivity and well-being due to neuroendocrine disruption and stress-induced immunosuppression. Generally, in the case of dairy cattle, stressors can be grouped into the following five broad categories: 1) Physical/Environmental; 2) Social; 3) Nutritional; 4) Psychological; and 5) Immunological. Examples of physical/environmental stressors would include injury, heat stress, cold stress, muddy conditions, and lameness/soreness. Social stress is typically encountered either by mixing unfamiliar animals together, isolating herd animals, or changes in the herd hierarchy. Nutritional stress can occur when animals are fed inadequate diets, contaminated diets, or feeding patterns are disrupted due to weather events or labor issues. Psychological stressors can be more difficult to discern and may be as subtle as moving cattle to a new pen, paddock, or pasture. Unfamiliar inanimate objects within the environment or the proximity of barking dogs, trains or vehicles can impose a psychological stress on cattle that may impact productivity and well-being. To adequately manage stress within a dairy herd, producers should consider individual animal responses, and individual variations that exist such as the cow’s age, physical condition, health status, temperament, and social status. Managing and reducing stress within a dairy herd requires proactive measures and continual monitoring by the producer.