Avoidance response to an unfamiliar human by dairy cows on pasture

R.E. Crossley, Eddy Bokkers, Natasha Browne, Katie Sugrue, Emer Kennedy, Muireann Conneely

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstract

Abstract

When managing dairy cows, a positive human-animal relationship (HAR) is necessary to maintain good health, productivity and welfare. Cows displaying more fearful behaviour may be difficult to handle during routine health procedures, have reduced milk yields and be at increased risk of injury to both themselves and stockpersons. To identify on-farm factors with a positive influence on HAR among dairy cows in pasture-based systems, 85 dairy herds (range 38-253 cows/herd) were enrolled throughout southern Ireland. At each farm, an avoidance test was conducted on a proportion of cows while grazing; a scorer slowly approached and attempted to touch individual cows, recording their moment of retreat according to 5 categories: (1) >2 m from scorer; (2) 1-2 m from scorer; (3) within 1 m of scorer, but avoids extended hand; (4) accepts extended hand but avoids touch; and (5) accepts touch. Results were categorised into percentage of fearful cows (category 1 or 2) and percentage of non-fearful cows (categories 4 or 5) per farm and data were log-transformed for normality before analysis. Additionally, farmers were surveyed regarding their management practices. Factors with potential to influence cows’ behaviour were identified and included in a multivariable regression model. Non-significant variables were removed through manual backwards selection until only those with P<0.05 remained. The final variables retained in the model were number of stockpersons and herd size. The back-transformed percentage of non-fearful cows was 18.4% higher on farms with 4 or more stockpersons compared to farms with only 1 (P=0.003). The percentage of non-fearful cows also decreased by 2.3% for every 10 cow increase in herd size (P=0.02). These results suggest that reduced herd sizes and interaction with more people have a positive effect on HAR in dairy cows at pasture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 8th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group level
EditorsLaura Boyle, Keelin O'Driscoll
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
Pages50-50
Number of pages1
ISBN (Electronic)9789086869015
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2021
Event8th International Conference on The Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group level - Cork, Ireland
Duration: 16 Aug 202119 Aug 2021

Conference

Conference8th International Conference on The Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group level
Abbreviated titleWAFL 2021
CountryIreland
CityCork
Period16/08/2119/08/21

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