Conference proceedings article
Identification and development of appropriate measures to routinely assess the reactivity of dairy cows towards humans

Publication Details
Ebinghaus, A.; Ivemeyer, S.; Rupp, J.; Knierim, U.
Dwyer,Cathy; Haskell, Marie; Sandilands, Victoria
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Edinburgh, United Kingdom
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Proceedings of the 50th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology
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Behavioural indicators of the human-animal relationship (HAR) are predominantly used in

animal welfare science, so far. However, the reactivity of dairy cows may also be of interest

in the context of breeding, due to its estimated moderate heritability. Breeding associations

routinely use the average milk flow and partly the subjective evaluation of milking temperament

by the stockperson as traits to select for improved milkability and manageability. However,

it can be questioned whether these traits reflect reliably and accurately the reactivity towards

humans. In contrast, the avoidance distance (AD) of cows towards an unfamiliar experimenter

is regarded an established behavioural HAR indicator. The aim of the study was to identify and

develop measures, which allow reliable conclusions on the HAR under various conditions, and

which are suitable to be recorded as breeding traits. On three German dairy farms with loose

housing and herd sizes of 45 to 195 cows, AD at the feeding place and AD in the barn as well

as innovative HAR measures were applied and tested for inter-observer reliability (IOR) and

inter-test associations. Innovative measures were a Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) of

the cow’s reactivity in a human-animal interaction, tolerance to standardised tactile interaction

(TTI), release behaviour after restraint (RB) and facial hair whorl positions and forms (HW).

IOR was assessed using Spearman rank or Kendall W correlation (in case of QBA with three

observers), or the PABAK (in case of HW data). Inter-test associations between AD at the

feeding place and HW were analysed using a General Linear Model and between all other

measures with Spearman rank correlation. IOR was good to very good for all measures: AD

feeding place rs=0.79 (n=84, P<0.01); AD barn rs=0.83 (n=36, P<0.01); TTI rs=0.93 (n=55,

P<0.01); RB rs=0.90 (n=54, P<0.01); QBA W=0.95 (n=32, P<0.01); HW PABAK=0.77-0.83

(n=58). High inter-test correlations were found between AD feeding place and AD barn

(rs=0.77, n=44, P<0.01), between TTI and RB (rs=0.78, n=52, P<0.01) as well as between QBA

and RB (rs=0.76, n=18, P<0.01). Moderately correlated were QBA and TTI (rs=0.68, n=18,

P<0.01), AD feeding place and TTI (rs=0.50, n=44, P<0.01), and AD feeding place and RB

(rs=0.45, n=43, P<0.01). No significant associations were found between HW and AD. The

results suggest that TTI, RB and QBA alongside the established AD are appropriate reactivity

measures. They partly reflect similar and partly different aspects of the HAR, with an apparent

clustering into distance and handling measures.

Last updated on 2019-25-07 at 16:22