Developing a feasible and sensitive judgement bias task in dairy cows

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Abstract

Judgement bias tasks (JBTs) are used to assess the influence of farm practices on livestock affective states. The tasks must be adjusted to the species and age group of focus. In cattle, most JBTs were designed for calves instead of adult cows. This study aimed to develop a JBT suitable for adult dairy cows, combining feasibility, validity, sensitivity and repeatability. Three JBTs were developed in which cows were trained to reach or avoid reaching a feeder, the location of which signalled a reward or punisher. The tasks differed in terms of punisher—cows being allocated either to “no-reward”, an air puff or an electric shock. Cows were then exposed twice to three ambiguous positions of the feeder, on two separate occasions. Speed of learning and proportions of correct responses to the conditioned locations were used to assess the feasibility of the task. Adjusted latencies to reach the ambiguous feeder positions were used to examine whether response patterns matched the linear and monotonic graded pattern expected in a valid and sensitive JBT at baseline. Latencies to reach the feeders in the two repeated testing sessions were compared to assess ambiguity loss over tasks’ repetitions. The validity of using spatial JBTs for dairy cows was demonstrated. While the effect on JBT feasibility was nuanced, the punisher did influence JBT sensitivity. None of the JBTs’ repeatability could be supported. We conclude that using an air puff as punisher led to the most sensitive, yet non-repeatable—BT for dairy cows.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Cognition
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Affective state
  • Cows
  • Feasibility
  • Judgement bias
  • Punisher
  • Sensitivity

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