Journal of dairy science

Overstocking dairy cows during the dry period affects dehydroepiandrosterone and cortisol secretion.

PMID 27837985


Stressful situations trigger several changes such as the secretion of cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) from the adrenal cortex, in response to ACTH. The aim of this study was to verify whether overstocking during the dry period (from 21±3 d to the expected calving until calving) affects DHEA and cortisol secretion and behavior in Holstein Friesian cows. Twenty-eight cows were randomly divided into 2 groups (14 animals each), balanced for the number of lactations, body condition score, and expected date of calving. Cows in the far-off phase of the dry period (from 60 to 21 d before the expected calving date) were housed together in a bedded pack. Then, animals from 21±3 d before the expected calving until calving were housed in pens with the same size but under different crowding conditions due to the introduction of heifers (interference animals) into the pen. The control condition (CTR) had 2 animals per pen with 12.0m(2) each, whereas the overstocked condition (OS) had 3 interference animals in the same pen with 4.8m(2) for each animal. On d -30±3, -21±3, -15±3, -10±3, and -5±3 before and 10, 20, and 30 after calving, blood samples were collected from each cow for the determination of plasma DHEA and cortisol concentrations by RIA. Rumination time (min/d), activity (steps/h), lying time (min/d), and lying bouts (bouts/d) were individually recorded daily. In both groups, DHEA increased before calving and the concentration declined rapidly after parturition. Overstocking significantly increased DHEA concentration compared with the CTR group at d -10 (1.79±0.09 vs. 1.24±0.14 pmol/mL), whereas an increase of cortisol was observed at d -15 (3.64±0.52 vs. 1.64±0.46ng/mL). The OS group showed significantly higher activity (steps/h) compared with the CTR group. Daily lying bouts tended to be higher for the OS group compared with CTR group in the first week of treatment. The overall results of this study documented that overstocking during the dry period was associated with a short-term changes in DHEA and cortisol but these hormonal modifications did not influence cow behavior.