Evaluation of bonding and maternal behaviours in cattle – Swedish dairy cows in cow-calf contact system

Last changed: 24 May 2021
Image of scientific poster. Author: Elin Svensson

Elin Svensson, Agricultural Science Programme - Animal Science.


There is increased interest to keep the dairy cow and calf together for a longer period. This requires that the cow has a maternal motivation, show maternal behaviours, can bond with and take care of the calf. This study aimed to investigate the maternal behaviours of modern dairy cows and assess bonding behaviours between cow and calf. A total of 10 Swedish Red (SR) and 9 Swedish Holstein (SH) cows with either a female or male calf were included in the study. The animals were housed in a cow-calf contact system from 48 hours after birth. Maternal-filial interactions were observed at the maternity pen when the calves were one day old. A preference test was used at 4 weeks of age to assess the calf’s preference for their mother over an unfamiliar cow and the cows' preference for her calf over an unfamiliar calf. A neophobia test was also performed at 5 weeks of age. Data were analysed in R using GLM (count data) and mixed models. This study showed that maternal and bonding behaviours varied between cows, with some indications that Swedish Red, pairs with multiparous cows and female calves potentially were more bonded by the preference test which did not fully follow the same pattern in the neophobia test where it was found indications that primiparous pairs were more bonded. Further studies on bonding behaviour development in cow-calf systems are encouraged together with behaviours towards the farmer when the cow herself is mothers during rearing.


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Image of scientific poster. Author: Elin Svensson.

Additional image to scientific poster. Author: Elin Svensson

About me

Elin Svensson. Private photo.

Elin Svensson

Hello! I’m an animal science student graduating from the Husdjursagronom program this spring. I have grown up with suckler cows in the south of Sweden and cattle has always been one of my main interests. When starting at SLU 5 years ago I got to hear about the possibilities to keep dairy cows with their calves and like the thought of it even if I’m not against the traditional system. I was however a bit sceptical regarding how good of a mother the dairy cow is with generations of selection for other traits. The thought of keeping the dairy cows with their calf has been in the back of my head during my whole education so when I came in contact with the project about cow-calf contact systems there was no hesitation that I would do my thesis on this subject. After graduation, I would like to work with cattle as a production and/or feed advisor for both dairy and meat-producing cattle farmers. I’m also, with the insight the thesis gave me, interested in working with developing this system outside of the academic world on farms that would like to do the change.