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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Characteristics of estrous behaviour in heifers and lactating cows and its associations with fertility Figueiredo Silper, Bruna


Detection of estrus in dairy cows is challenging, partly because of poor behavioural expression. Automated activity monitors allow quantification of estrus expression based on restlessness. The main goals of this thesis were to use automated measurements and visual observation of behaviour to increase understanding of estrus characteristics, variation among animals, risk factors for poor expression, and its association with fertility. In the first study, the behaviour of heifers was video-recorded and activity peaks were identified from accelerometer data; estrus was validated by ovarian ultrasonography. Chin rest, sniff, back mount, crossover, and follow had the largest increase in frequency during estrus. Estrus relative increase in walking activity (290 ± 160%) and duration (14 ± 4 h) varied greatly and were affected by estrus order, season and time of the day. The second study investigated how estrus affected automated measurements of lying and standing behaviour, a less explored aspect of estrus. At estrus, bout frequency was lower, daily standing time was greater, and heifers stood uninterruptedly for twice longer than at baseline. Relative changes in standing behaviour at estrus were smaller for estrus starting between 1200 h and 0300 h. The third experiment investigated the agreement between estrus characteristics in heifers fitted with two accelerometers. Both systems were precise (PPV = 84.7% [Heatime] and 98.7% [IceTag]) and provided similar characterization and timing. Plasma estradiol was not correlated with follicle diameter, duration, intensity, or presence of estrus signs. Finally, estrus lying behaviour of lactating cows and its associations with fertility were studied. Daily lying time and bout frequency were reduced at estrus (65 ± 21% and 65 ± 24% of baseline). Ovulation and pregnancy at d 32 after AI were 4.9 and 1.6 times more likely if estrus lying time was < 75% of baseline. Collectively, results suggest potential application of lying behaviour towards fertility prediction. We have also highlighted features such as variability, risk factors and basal activity that can contribute to assessment of methods and practices for increased expression. Additional future directions include investigation of physiological bases of estrus-fertility association and real-time applications of characterization data.

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