The Effects of Prenatal Transportation on Postnatal Endocrine and Immune Function in Brahman Beef Calves



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Prenatal stressors have been reported to affect postnatal cognitive, metabolic, reproductive and immune functions. This study examined immune indices and function in Brahman calves prenatally stressed by transportation of their dams on d 60, 80, 100, 120 and 140 ? 5 d of gestation. Based on assessment of cow?s temperament and their reactions to repeated transportation it was evident that temperamental cows displayed greater pre-transport cortisol (P < 0.0001) and glucose (P < 0.03) concentrations, and habituated slower to the stressor compared to cows of calm and intermediate temperament. Serum concentration of cortisol at birth was greater (P < 0.03) in prenatally stressed versus control calves. Total and differential white blood cell counts and serum cortisol concentration in calves from birth through the age of weaning were determined. We identified a sexual dimorphism in neutrophil cell counts at birth (P = 0.0506) and cortisol concentration (P < 0.02) beginning at 14 d of age, with females having greater amounts of both. Whether weaning stress differentially affected cell counts, cortisol concentrations and neutrophil function of prenatally stressed and control male calves was examined. At 2 d post weaning, all calves had increased cortisol concentration (P < 0.0001) and neutrophil cell counts (P < 0.0001). However, in vitro production of reactive oxidative species by neutrophils was decreased (P = 0.0002) 2 d post weaning. Moreover, prenatally stressed calves demonstrated a larger (P = 0.0203) decrease in their immune function relative to control calves at 2 d post-weaning. Importantly, prenatally stressed calves took longer than controls to recover from the weaning stress. Additional studies are needed to clarify if prenatally stressed calves are more susceptible than control calves to pathogens during the post weaning period. Management practices to improve animal welfare and livestock production may need modification if follow-up studies demonstrate that prenatal stress also affects reproductive development, growth, performance and meat quality.