Social stressors and their effects on immunity and health of periparturient dairy cows.

R C Chebel, M I Endres, Michael Ballou, K L Luchterhand, Paula R.B. Silva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Scopus citations


Management practices during the periparturient period have been the focus of much research recently because during this period immune function, metabolism, and health of cows are severely challenged. Responses to stress are often classified as behavioral, immunological, neuroendocrine, and autonomic. In production systems, understanding all facets of stress response is important to correctly predict the consequences of stressors to the health and performance of animals and to prevent costly managerial changes that have minimal effect on animal well-being and performance. Common social stressors faced by periparturient animals are regrouping, overstocking, and for nulliparous animals, commingling with parous animals. In conventional dairies, feeding strategies during the periparturient period often require several group changes during the most challenging period of an animal's life. Traditional weekly regrouping of prepartum cows increases competitive behavior at the feed bunk but it does not affect immune and metabolic responses, health and production, as long as stocking density is not overwhelming, and nulliparous and parous animals are housed separately. Stocking density of prepartum animals may be overlooked because these are nonproductive animals. Severe overstocking (200% of feeding space) of commingled nulliparous and parous pregnant animals produces neuroendocrine and metabolic changes. On the other hand, when prepartum nulliparous and parous animals are housed separately, stocking densities of up to 120% do not seem to affect innate and adaptive immunity, metabolic responses, milk yield, and reproductive performance, despite increasing negative behavior among cows. In recent experiments, when animals were ranked based on feed bunk displacement, dominant animals were more likely to be diagnosed with metritis than subordinate animals. Importantly, dominant animals with large number of interactions with pen mates (displacement at the feed bunk) were considerably more likely to be diagnosed with uterine diseases (retained placenta and metritis) and to be removed from the herd within 60 d postpartum. Much has been learned about behavioral responses of cows to stressful conditions, but our understanding of neuroendocrine and immune responses to such conditions is somewhat limited. A multidisciplinary approach to research that encompasses several responses to stress and biological functions is critical.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3217-3228
Number of pages12
JournalDefault journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Health
  • Immune function
  • Periparturient cow
  • Social stressor


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