The effects of body posture and temperament on heart rate variability in dairy cows.

Physiology & behavior

PubMedID: 25481355

Frondelius L, Järvenranta K, Koponen T, Mononen J. The effects of body posture and temperament on heart rate variability in dairy cows. Physiol Behav. 2014;.
Reactivity of cattle affects many aspects of animal production (e.g. reduced milk and meat production). Animals have individual differences in temperament and emotional reactivity, and these differences can affect how animals react to stressful and fear-eliciting events. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a good indicator of stress and balance of the autonomous nervous system, and low parasympathetic activity is connected with higher emotional reactivity. The study had two specific aims: (1) to compare HRV in dairy cows for standing and lying postures (no earlier results available), and (2) to assess whether dairy cows' emotional reactivity is connected to their HRV values. Eighteen dairy cows were subjected twice to a handling test (HT): morning (HT1) and afternoon (HT2), to evaluate emotional reactivity (avoidance score, AC). HRV was measured during HT (standing). HRV baseline values, both standing and lying down, were measured one week before HTs. HRV was analyzed with time and frequency domain analyses and with the Recurrence Quantification Analysis (RQA). Heart rate (HR), low-frequency/high-frequency band ratio (LH/HF), % determinism (%DET) and longest diagonal line segment in the recurrence plot (Lmax)) were higher (p<0.05) while the cows were standing than when lying down, whereas the root mean square of successive R-R intervals (RMSSD) (p<0.05) and power of the high-frequency band (HF) (p<0.1) were higher while the animals were lying down. HR, the standard deviation of all interbeat intervals (SDNN), RMSSD, HF, power of the low-frequency band (LF), % recurrence (%REC), %DET, Shannon entropy (p<0.05), and HF (p<0.1) were higher during the handling test compared to standing baseline values. AC (i.e. tendency to avoid handling) correlated positively with SDNN (r=0.48, p<0.05), RMSSD (r=0.54, p<0.05), HF, RMSSD (r=0.46, p<0.1) and LF (r=0.57, p<0.05), and negatively with %DET (r=-0.53, p<0.05), entropy (r=-0.60, p<0.05) and Lmax (r=-0.55, p<0.05) in the baseline HRV measurements. AC correlated positively with SDNN (r=0.43, p<0.1) and HF (r=0.53, p<0.05) during HT. Some HRV parameters (HR, LF, %REC, %DET) indicated that the handling test may have caused stress to the experimental cows, although some HRV results (SDNN, RMSSD, HF, entropy) were controversial. The correlations between HRV variables and AC suggest that the emotional reactivity of the cow can be assessed from the baseline values of the HRV. It is debatable, however, whether the handling test used in the present study was a good method of causing mild stress in dairy cattle, since it may have even induced a positive emotional state. The posture of the cow affected HRV values as expected (based on results from other species), so that while standing a shift towards more sympathetic dominance was evident. Our results support the idea that linear (time and frequency domain) and non-linear (RQA) methods measuring HRV complement each other, but further research is needed for better understanding of the connection between temperament and HRV.