Researchers at the University of Arkansas analyzed 25 years of data from five breed groups of cows and found that calf-survival rate was higher when cows exhibited aggressive or protective behavior postpartum. The study, published in the Professional Animal Scientist, was conducted to determine variables affecting cow behavior at calving time.

Postpartum maternal behavior scores were recorded on 5,070 births representing 142 sires, and included breeds such as Angus, Charolais, Hereford, Polled Hereford and Red Poll. The scoring system was on a 1 to 4 basis as follows:

1=Very aggressive, cow fought handler to protect calf
2=Very attentive, mild aggression
3=Indifferent, showed no aggression but remained in sight of calf
4=Apathetic, cow showed no emotion toward calf

Three- and 4-year-old cows had significantly higher MBS than 5-year-old and older cows. Cows giving birth to thin calves had significantly higher MBS than those with fleshier calves.

Calf-survival rate declined when cow behavior became less aggressive/protective. Conversely, calf-survivability rate increased markedly as maternal behavior became more aggressive/protective.

According to the authors, these results indicate that the more-attentive cows at birth enhanced survivability of their offspring, whether caused by protection from predation or other factors that might have been involved.