Conference Paper

Social Bonds in Dairy Cattle: Effects of dynamic group systems on welfare and productivity.

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... Cows are sociable and can thrive in stable social groups because they are able develop to long-lasting dyadic preferential relationships (Gutmann et al., 2015;Reinhardt et al., 1986). However, the adoption of AMS increases the number of cattle being group-housed in large dynamic systems (McLennan, 2013), with disruptive husbandry practices, such as re/grouping in this systems, forcing the cows to change social partners regularly. Earlier studies have reported the negative effects of regrouping not only on social behaviour but also on milk production due to increased stress response as a result of competition over resources such as feeding and lying spaces (Mazer et al., 2020;Shirmann et al., 2011;Von Keyserlingk, Olenick and Weary, 2008). ...
... Social and group living animals may form social bonds to a particular conspecific or conspecifics (Boissy and Dumont, 2002). They receive social support from their preferred social partners (McLennan, 2013), potentially alleviating stress responses related to social dynamics (Boissy and Le Neindre, 1990;Liu et al., 2013;Wittig et al., 2008) and may improve welfare. ...
... Lecorps et al. (2019) found preferential social associations in dairy calves when they were standing (not resting) even after they were moved to a new pen. McLennan (2013) found social preferential relationships in a large dairy herd when lying down at the resting areas. Preferred social partners have been reported to appear more in young animals compared to older animals (calves: (Sato et al., 1987); heifers: (Hagen and Broom, 2003;McLennan, 2013). ...
Dairy cows are gregarious animals that are able to thrive in a stable social group and form long-lasting dyadic relationships. However, in the modern UK commercial dairy industry, cows are commonly regrouped/relocated as part of the management plan, forcing the cows to change social partners regularly. Social bonding in group-housed adult dairy cows and calves have been shown to be associated with spatial-proximity of conspecifics within the pen, with closer individuals establishing stronger relationships, but little is known about the influence of consistent social associations at the AMS on milk production in dairy cattle in a robotic milking system under commercial conditions. This study determined if there were consistent social associations during milking at AMS between cows in a free traffic system using the time between milking events (i.e. time between the next cow arriving and the preceding cow leaving) in the same pen on the same day retrieved from the AMS and whether these associations influence milk yield, fat and protein content. The relative association strengths, accounting for opportunity to associate, were calculated (i.e., the observed number of associations between pairs was divided by the number of days cows shared the same pen together) and used as the measure of social association between the cows. Multiple linear regression models in R were used to assess whether relative mean and maximum association strength scores (mean-centred) influenced average daily milk yield and for each composition trait depending on the parity. Associations among cows at the AMS were much more variable in strength than expected by chance, indicating the presence of consistent associations that might represent social preferences. Multiparous cows had stronger mean social association strength compared to the primiparous cows. Both mean and maximum association strengths were not related to average milk yield but were related to milk fat and protein percentages depending on the parity group. On average, multiparous cows had greater average daily milk yield compared to primiparous cows, however, a significant decrease in milk fat and protein percentage was found in multiparous (older) cows with increased mean association strength which did not occur in the primiparous (younger) cows. In conclusion, while consistent social associations at the AMS may bring benefits for younger cows, older cows may adjust their daily activity budgets to establish these associations, with consequences for their milk composition.
... Moving forward it is important to continue to increase public awareness and sensitivity towards farm animal sentience by perhaps continuing to highlight examples like the following i.e., young cows demonstrating the ability to form social bonds within their herds (McLennan, 2013), fetal lambs possibly being aware of maternal vocalisations (Duncan, 2006) and sheep being able to recognise facial expressions (Constable, 2017). ...
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This qualitative exploratory study focuses on understanding meat-eating practices in urban Australia and urban India, with a view towards encouraging a reduced-meat diet in both countries.
... This may be reflective of dynamic groups in most of the farms we studied, as even the 'stable' group that were kept as a single herd, were sourced from different farms and had not been reared together, in contrast to many groups in beef herds. This suggests that relatively fewer strong social bonds are formed in the herds in our study might be expected in a less managed environment (Bouissou et al., 2001;McLennan, 2013). However, we acknowledge our study periods were relatively short, and focal studies over longer time periods may reveal more complex and/or sustained social relationships among cows (Rocha et al., 2020). ...
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The nature of contacts between hosts can be important in facilitating or impeding the spread of pathogens within a population. Networks constructed from contacts between hosts allow examination of how individual variation might influence the spread of infections. Studying the contact networks of livestock species managed under different conditions can additionally provide insight into their influence on these contact structures. We collected high-resolution proximity and GPS location data from nine groups of domestic cattle (mean group size = 85) in seven dairy herds employing a range of grazing and housing regimes. Networks were constructed from cattle contacts (defined by proximity) aggregated by different temporal windows (2 hours, 24 hours, and approximately 1 week) and by location within the farm. Networks of contacts aggregated over the whole study were highly saturated, but dividing contacts by space and time revealed substantial variation in cattle interactions. Cows showed statistically significant variation in the frequency of their contacts, and the number of cows with which they were in contact. When cows were in buildings compared to being on pasture, contact durations were longer and cows contacted more other cows. A small number of cows showed evidence of consistent relationships but the majority of cattle did not. In one group where management allowed free access to all farm areas, cows showed asynchronous space use and while at pasture, contacted fewer other cows and showed substantially greater between-individual variation in contacts than other groups. We highlight the degree to which variations in management (e.g. grazing access, milking routine) substantially alter the cattle contact patterns, with potentially major implications for infection transmission and social interactions. In particular, where individual cows have free choice of their environment, the resulting contact networks may have a less-risky structure that could reduce the likelihood of direct-transmission of infections.
... El estudio del comportamiento social como un componente del bienestar animal es fundamental para el desarrollo de una ganadería sostenible (McLennan, 2013). El ganado vacuno como ser gregario que es, vive e interactúa junto a sus congéneres, formando relaciones y estructuras sociales complejas. ...
Technical Report
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Las explotaciones son cada vez más grandes, por lo que existen nuevos desafíos estructurales que afectan a las operaciones de manejo e implican menos oportunidades de adaptación. Es necesario comprender bien el comportamiento de las vacas para que el sistema de alojamiento moderno satisfaga sus necesidades y beneficie al animal y al ganadero.
... In cattle, pairwise integrated heifers adapt faster as compared to singly integrated ones (O'Connell et al., 2008;Gygax et al., 2009;Neisen et al., 2009). For the effectiveness of social buffering, familiarity might be a critical factor in different species including cattle (Takeda et al., 2003;Faerevik et al., 2006;Rault, 2012;McLennan, 2013;Kiyokawa and Hennessy, 2018). Our study therefore aimed at investigating possible effects of familiarity on behaviour after regrouping, taking into account that early familiarity and recent familiarity may influence the animals differently (Raussi et al., 2010;Gutmann et al., 2015). ...
As dairy cows’ needs and demands change over the different phases of their reproductive cycle, regrouping is common practice in dairy farming to facilitate management and handling. However, social instability associated with regrouping is known to have negative effects on the cows, including disturbances in their lying behaviour. In this study, we examined the effect of familiar group mates on lying time and lying synchrony in a dynamic group of approximately 50 early lactating dairy cows during 23 regrouping events. We focussed on 13 primiparous and 33 multiparous post partum cows during 24 hours after their introduction to the group as compared to a matched control sample of resident cows. We hypothesised that freshly introduced cows would lie shorter and behave less synchronously with the group as compared to resident cows. Further, we hypothesised that lying duration and lying synchrony will increase with the number of familiar animals present and that these effects may depend on whether the familiarity was acquired early in life or only recently. As predicted, primiparous fresh cows lied less and behaved less synchronous at the dyadic level than their matched residents. However, no such effect was present in multiparous cows. The presence of recently familiar animals had no influence on either primiparous or multiparous cows’ behaviour. In contrast, early familiar animals affected the cows’ behaviour in several aspects, yet differently in primiparas and multiparas. In fresh primiparas, an increasing number of early familiar animals present had a negative effect on lying duration. Among both fresh and resident primiparas, early familiar dyads were more synchronized than other pairs of animals. In multiparous cows, a higher number of early familiar cows present led to more synchronous behaviour with the group. We conclude that primiparous and multiparous cows are differently affected when introduced to a lactating group after calving. Duration and synchronization of lying behaviour indicated that primiparas are strongly challenged by their entrance to the group while multiparas cope well with it. In both primiparas and multiparas, lying behaviour was affected, albeit differently, by the presence of early familiar individuals, but not by recently familiar animals. The relations between familiarity, group dynamics, behavioural synchrony and lying behaviour are complex and need deeper investigation.
... The existence of a social connection between cows and respect for their preferred companions may offer benefits beyond animal well-being, such as a higher level of mental flexibility and adaptability to change. Cows that were housed with their 'best friends' showed a significantly reduced heart rate, suggesting a reduction in stress (McLennan, 2013). According to Baciadonna et al. (2018) gregarious species such as cattle may be affected by a process called 'emotional contagion', which consists of changes that can be perceived by specific individuals that may affect the emotional states of others. ...
The quality of the social environment should be studied as one of the welfare components of dairy herds. Licking and preference between cows are important socio-positive experiences in this context.The aims of this study were: 1) to describe the behaviours temporally associated with social licking in grazing dairy cows, 2) to measure the association of social licking with social hierarchy and gestational state and 3) to compare social licking between preferred mates – cows that are more often in close proximity – and other mates. Six commercial Jersey herds, averaging 24.6 ± 5 lactating cows per herd, and managed on a rotational grazing system year-round, were enrolled in the study. Herds were kept constant for at least 30 d before data collection, and at four days before data collection the herds were habituated to the data collection routine. The behaviours of all cows within each herd were observed through direct observation for six days between milking, from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. A total of 148 cows were observed for 42 h each during the study period. Licking events and agonistic interactions were observed continuously, and the individual instigator and receptor participating in each event were recorded. All agonistic interactions were registered, and a sociometric matrix was developed for each herd. Scan sampling (every 6-min) was used to register behaviours of each individual cow and its closest neighbours. Licking was a widespread behaviour in the studied herds, registered in 94.5% of the cows and occurring most often around 10:00, during ingestive behaviours. Social lickings were most often observed immediately before drinking or mineralizing, and immediately after idling or ruminating. Social hierarchy was not associated with the number of social lickings. Pregnant cows received 1.63 more lickings than non-pregnant cows but didn’t perform more. Furthermore, older cows performed and received more lickings than primiparous cows. Social licking interactions were higher (1.89 vs. 0.62; p ≤ 0.01) between preferential mates than the average for the herd. Similarly, agonistic interactions between preferential mates was higher (1.97 vs. 1.52; p ≤ 0.01) than observed among the average herd. Our results reveal that social licking is widespread among herds and suggests an association with social preferences when cows are on pasture, which may be related to affinity among cows. Preferred mates also showed greater number of agonistic interactions.
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Tato publikace předkládá čtenáři vybrané základní oblasti obecné a aplikované etologie skotu. Hlavním záměrem bylo vysvětlit souvislosti a zákonitosti chování krav, jejichž znalost může pomoci chovatelům, zootechnikům a ošetřovatelům v jejich každodenní práci. Shrnujeme aktuální vědecké poznatky o chování skotu s ohledem na jejich využitelnost v praktických podmínkách chovu a s cílem zvýšení celkové úrovně chovného komfortu a welfare chovaných zvířat. V oblasti aplikované etologie jde především o snahu pomoci chovatelům pochopit reakce skotu na chovné prostředí (ustájení, kvalitu chovného prostředí, technologie), ale i jednotlivé prvky managementu (ošetřování zvířat, dojení, výživu a krmení). S podporou znalostí z obecné biologie chování skotu tak lze dosáhnout většího prostoru pro projevování přirozeného chování zvířat, a tím jejich větší spokojenosti při dosažení stanovených produkčních cílů v podmínkách konkrétních chovů. This publication presents the basic areas of ethology and applied ethology in cattle husbandry. The main puropose is to explain the context and patterns of cattle behaviour. This information can help farmers, animals‘ caretakers in their daily work. We sum up the current scientific knowledge on cattle behaviour with regard to its usability in practical farm conditions in order to increase the overall level of comfort and welfare of farmed animals. In applied ethology, the primary focus is to help farmers understand the reactions of cattle to the breeding environment (housing, quality of breeding environment, technology), but also to the individual elements of management (animal care, milking, nutrition and feeding). With the support of this type of biological knowledge, it is possible to achieve a greater scope for the manifestation of natural animal behaviour and thus improve their welfare while achieving set production goals in specific farm conditions.
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Based on recent ethnographic fieldwork at an intensive dairy farm, this chapter examines the usefulness of posthuman critical theory for developing a new sociolinguistic approach to nonhuman animal agency. We explore how dairy cows, as encaged sentient beings whose mobility is profoundly restricted by bars and fences, negotiate their environment as a material-semiotic resource in linguistic acts of place-making. Drawing on the fields of critical posthumanism, new materialism and sociolinguistics, we explain how dairy cows imbue their physical space with meaning through materiality, the body and language. By developing a non-anthropocentric approach to language as a practice of more-than-human sociality, we argue for establishing egalitarian research perspectives beyond the assumptions of human exceptionalism and species hierarchy. The chapter thus aims to contribute towards a new understanding of nonhuman agency and interspecies relationships in the Anthropocene.
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As animal cruelty associated with factory farming becomes exposed in the public domain, there appears to be growing interest in ethical meat and animal products due to consumer awareness and demand for ‘healthier’ and ‘happier food’. Food produced through humane modes of welfare and slaughter is increasingly being proposed as a consumption alternative as humane meat as well as eggs and dairy are increasingly being found on the supermarket shelves. However, in light of this recent trend, it is worth asking to what extent is ‘humane meat’ truly more compassionate?
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There is increasing realisation amongst the public that dairy cow welfare is not good because of certain management practices and genetic selection for high milk yield. If the industry does not act rapidly, consumers will refuse to buy milk unless good cow welfare can be guaranteed by the use of welfare outcome measures. Management in such a way that welfare outcome criteria can be met is usually more difficult in larger herds. Several other aspects of sustainability can be affected by herd size in a positive or negative way. The negative aspects have to be avoided so increasing herd size would have to be undertaken with many extra measures in place and hence greater costs than might be immediately apparent.
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