Heart rate and heart rate variability in dairy cows with different temperament and behavioural reactivity to humans

Levente Kovács, Fruzsina Luca Kézér, János Tozsér, Ottó Szenci, Péter Póti, Ferenc Pajor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)


From the 1990s, extensive research was started on the physiological aspects of individual traits in animals. Previous research has established two extreme (proactive and reactive) coping styles in several animal species, but the means of reactivity with the autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity has not yet been investigated in cattle. The aim of this study was the characterization of cardiac autonomic activity under different conditions in cows with different individual characteristics. For this purpose, we investigated heart rate and ANSrelated heart rate variability (HRV) parameters of dairy cows (N = 282) on smaller- and larger-scale farms grouped by (1) temperament and (2) behavioural reactivity to humans (BRH). Animals with high BRH scores were defined as impulsive, while animals with low BRH scores were defined as reserved. Cardiac parameters were calculated for undisturbed lying (baseline) and for milking bouts, the latter with the presence of an unfamiliar person (stressful situation). Sympathetic tone was higher, while vagal activity was lower in temperamental cows than in calm animals during rest both on smaller- and larger-scale farms. During milking, HRV parameters were indicative of a higher sympathetic and a lower vagal activity of temperamental cows as compared to calm ones in farms of both sizes. Basal heart rate did not differ between BRH groups either on smaller- or larger-scale farms. Differences between basal ANS activity of impulsive and reserved cows reflected a higher resting vagal and lower sympathetic activity of reserved animals compared to impulsive ones both on smaller- and larger-scale farms. There was no difference either in heart rate or in HRV parameters between groups during milking neither in smaller- nor in larger-scale farms. These two groupings allowed to draw possible parallels between personality and cardiac autonomic activity during both rest and milking in dairy cows. Heart rate and HRV seem to be useful for characterisation of physiological differences related to temperament and BRH.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0136294
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 20 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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