Qualitative Behavioural Assessment of Bos indicus cattle after surgical castration

Thinza V. Vindevoghel, Patricia A. Fleming, Timothy H. Hyndman, Gabrielle C. Musk, Michael Laurence, Teresa Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


There are various methods to perform castration of cattle, but surgical castration is the most common. Although it is well documented that surgical procedures inflict pain, analgesic use is usually omitted for surgical castration of production animals in Australia. This study compares the behavioural responses of castrated cattle (C) with non-castrated (NC) controls, and C with those castrated and given lignocaine and meloxicam (CLM) for analgesia. Brahman bull calves (n = 8 for each treatment) were filmed in the morning pre- (day -1) and post- (day +1) castration in the paddock and feed yard (‘context’ of observation). Over four sessions, volunteer observers viewed the video footage for Qualitative Behaviour Analysis (QBA) using the Free Choice Profiling methodology comparing C and NC cattle, and C and CLM cattle under both contexts. The QBA consensus profiles explained 37.4% (C vs. NC) and 40.6% (C vs. CLM) of variation among observers for paddock sessions and 34.7% (C vs. NC) and 38.7% (C vs. CLM) for feed yard sessions. Significant treatment x day interaction effects were recorded in the paddock (P = 0.007 and P < 0.001) and yard (P = 0.004 and P = 0.025) contexts for comparisons between NC vs C, and C vs CLM respectively. Compared to NC, post-castration C cattle were described as more ‘bored’/’lethargic’ and ‘alone’ (paddock) and were more ‘calm’/’relaxed’ and ‘relaxed’/’lonely’ (yard). Similarly, compared to CLM, post-castration C cattle were described as more ‘docile’/’chilled’ and ‘curious’/’aware’ (paddock) and were less ‘hungry’/’alert’ (yard). There was only one correlation between qualitative and quantitative behaviour scoring; ruminating showed significant correlation with one dimension in each context, that reflected a positive emotion (‘calm, relaxed’). The comparison between C vs. NC suggest that C were less active and less engaged with their environment compared to the NC group following castration. The C vs. CLM comparison suggests a more subtle response whereby analgesia was associated with more positive valence (higher scores on ‘calm/comfortable’ and ‘hungry/alert’ dimensions) following castration. The interpretation of findings requires careful consideration of the emotional responses given these calves were unhabituated and reactive to their surroundings. These results suggest the body language of Bos indicus cattle may reveal indicators of pain, and that the administration of analgesia may be beneficial at the time of castration. The study highlights the complexities and challenges of identifying pain responses in Brahman cattle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-102
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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