Suckling can be a peaceful or vulnerable event for goats and kids, whereas, separation is suggested as stressful. The aim of this study was to investigate physiology and behaviour in these two different situations in dairy goats.
Four studies were performed with seven goats kept with their first-born kid in individual boxes. The goats were videotaped and heart rate and arterial blood pressure were recorded every minute by telemetry from parturition until 24 hours after separation. One to two days after parturition, Study 1 was performed with analyses of heart rate and blood pressure around a suckling. In Study 2, performed 3-5 days after parturition, blood sampling was done before, during and after suckling. Study 3 was performed 4-6 days post partum, with blood sampling before and after a permanent goat and kid separation. In addition, vocalisations were recorded after separation. Blood samples were obtained from a jugular vein catheter and analysed for plasma cortisol, β-endorphin, oxytocin, and vasopressin concentrations. Study 4 was performed during the first (N1) and second nights (N2) after parturition and the nights after Study 2 (N3) and 3 (N4). Heart rate, blood pressure and time spent lying down were recorded.
The kids suckled 2 ± 0.2 times per hour and each suckling bout lasted 43 ± 15 s. In Study 1, heart rate and blood pressure did not change significantly during undisturbed suckling. In Study 2, plasma cortisol (P ≤ 0.05 during suckling and P ≤ 0.01 five minutes after suckling) and β-endorphin (P ≤ 0.05) concentrations increased during suckling, but oxytocin and vasopressin concentrations did not change. In Study 3, the goats and kids vocalised intensively during the first 20 minutes after separation, but the physiological variables were not affected. In Study 4, heart rate and arterial blood pressure declined gradually after parturition and were lowest during N4 (P ≤ 0.05) when the goats spent longer time lying down than during earlier nights (P ≤ 0.01 during N1 and N3 and P ≤ 0.05 during N2).
Suckling elevated plasma cortisol and β-endorphin concentrations in the goats. The intensive vocalisation in the goats after separation, earlier suggested to indicate stress, was not accompanied by cardiovascular or endocrine responses.