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It makes a brave cow: how frequency of outdoor access improves the reactivity and human-animal relationship of dairy cattle

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Abstract

Movement restricted cattle are often denied the opportunity for daily mental and physical stimulation. Previous research has also established the physical and psychological benefits of allowing cattle to go outside. Increasing access to exercise may enhance welfare by enriching the lives of these animals and decreasing their reactivity. Thus, the aim of this study was to investigate to what extent the frequency of outdoor access impacts cattle reactivity in particular to humans. 36 Holstein cows from a tie-stall were divided into two treatments: a 3-exits and a 1- exit group that were allowed access to the outdoors three days of the week (n=18), and once a week (n=18), respectively. During outing day(s), the treatment cows, which were blocked into groups of three, were led to an outdoor area that was divided into six paddocks (each 117 m2 (9 m x 13 m)). Blocks were rotated weekly between paddocks for five consecutive weeks. Animals were allowed outside for a duration of 1 hour. Cows were individually tested two weeks before, one day after, and eight weeks following the trial, for reactivity using a Human Approach Test which had four stages: 1. standing still, 2&3. taking one step closer in each stage, and 4. reaching out towards animal. Reactivity at each stage was recorded live using a score range of -3 to 3 (with increasingly positive scores indicating decreasing fear). Scores were analyzed with a mixed model with a Bonferroni adjustment, for each stage of the test. The treatment, period, and the interaction between treatment and period, were considered the fixed effects while the cow nested into block was the random effect. There was no significant difference in reactivity score between the treatments. Both treatments had relatively neutral scores before and right after the trial. Both treatments had higher scores during the follow-up period starting from stage 2 onward for 1-exit and stage 3 onward for 3-exits, with a significant increase in score for stages 3 and 4 (min. increase = 0.48; P = 0.03; max increase = 0.51; P =0.02). This demonstrates decreased fear of humans for both treatments, regardless of outing frequency, suggesting long-term effects of leading cows outdoors on human reactivity due to cows positively associating human approach with going outside. However, further reactivity tests, such as the sudden test, should also be utilized to understand if outing affects reactivity in a general way and not just human relationship.
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Dates and versions

hal-03821632 , version 1 (19-10-2022)

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  • HAL Id : hal-03821632 , version 1

Cite

Jasmine Muszik, Marjorie Cellier, Nadège Aigueperse, Elsa Vasseur. It makes a brave cow: how frequency of outdoor access improves the reactivity and human-animal relationship of dairy cattle. 55. Congress of the ISAE 2022, Sep 2022, Ohrid, Macedonia. ⟨hal-03821632⟩

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