Journal of Dairy Science (JDS), vol. 96, p. 4375–4386, 2013
The current study presents a novel objective measure for characterizing sexually active groups (SAG 3-5) and relates this measure to other behaviors of lactating Holstein-Friesian cows. Cows in SAG 3-5 were required to participate in a minimum of 1 estrus behavior per 5min while staying within 3m (2 cow lengths) of its partner(s) for a minimum of 5min. Twenty Holstein-Friesian cows were video-monitored continuously through 1 complete estrous cycle (22d). Standing behavior, SAG 3-5, secondary estrus signs (SEC), and other social and agonistic behaviors were recorded continuously. The period of mounting estrus (MTE) was divided into the 3 parts: prestand, standing estrus (STE), and poststand. The mean durations of MTE, prestand, STE, and poststand period were 12.9±1.84, 4.0±1.93, 7.1±1.44, and 1.8±0.57h (n=13). The fractions of time spent in SAG 3-5 during MTE, prestand, STE, and poststand period were 13, 8, 19, and 1% (n=11). During MTE, cows participated, on average, in 5.8±1.24 SAG 3-5 and initiated 9.5±2.99 mounts, with mean durations of 0.25±0.03h and 4.00±0.36s, respectively. The novel measure SAG 3-5 was a sign of long duration not confined only to groups of STE cows. On one day when no cows were in estrus and during the periods 4 to 24h before and after MTE, no SAG 3-5 behaviors were observed. Luteal-phase cows participated in SAG 3-5 only when the partner was a single cow in estrus. The time spent in SAG 3-5 increased between 1 and 3h before MTE and the prestand period (3 vs. 8%) and reached a peak level during STE. From STE to poststand, time spent in SAG 3-5 decreased considerably (19 vs. 1%). The observed decrease in nonmutual agonistic behaviors 4 to 24h before MTE is suggested as an early sign of pre-estrus. Changes in SAG 3-5, agonistic behaviors, and SEC are suggested as indicators of the specific stages of MTE. Increased SEC initiated and SAG 3-5 were indicators of late pre-estrus and early estrus (prestand). Peak levels of SAG 3-5, SEC, and social agonistic behaviors were indicators of STE. A sudden decrease in behaviors, preceded by frequent interactions, was indicative of late estrus (poststand). On the basis of the findings reported here, we propose that SAG 3-5, as well as proceptive and receptive patterns of SEC and agonistic behaviors, be included in estrus detection protocols. Updated knowledge of these behavioral interactions may assist when determining the stage of estrus and the optimal time to breed dairy cows.