Journal article
Herd-level associations between human–animal relationship, management, fecal cortisol metabolites, and udder health of organic dairy cows 

Publication Details
Ivemeyer, S.; Simantke, C.; Ebinghaus, A.; Poulsen, P.; Sorensen, J.; Rousing, T.; Palme, R.; Knierim, U.
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Journal of Dairy Science
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Impact patterns of human–animal relationship (HAR) and herd stress level on udder health were investigated in a cross-sectional study on 30 German and Danish organic dairy herds also taking into account influencing factors regarding housing and management. Cow behavior (avoidance distance, tolerance to tactile interaction, release behavior) was assessed in tests, milkers’ behavior recorded during milking, and information about contacts with animals during routine work gathered by interview. Additionally, stockpersons’ attitudes were recorded via questionnaires. Fecal cortisol metabolites were measured in approximately 30 focal cows on each farm and used as a proxy to determine the level of distress within the herd. Management and housing were assessed on-farm. The following herd udder health indicators were calculated: the prevalence of mastitis quarters (≥100,000 cells/mL), and, from milk recording data over 1 yr retrospectively, the average somatic cell score and the self-cure rates during lactation per herd. Multivariable regression models with stepwise selection were calculated at herd level. The following HAR-related factors were associated with better udder health (in at least 1 of the final models): stockpersons’ higher agreement on patience being important when moving the cows and on necessary contact to cows being pleasant, higher amount of positive interactions with cows during milking, more docile cows in the release behavior test, no routine change of milkers, more contact time during routine work, no active
heifer habituation to milking, and performance of barn controls beyond routine work. Lower fecal cortisol
metabolite levels were related to higher self-cure rates during lactation. Concerning housing, management,
and herd characteristics, the following known factors were related to impaired udder health for at least 1 of
the indicators: straw yards, automatic milking system, higher average lactation number, and less antibiotic
udder treatments. The results confirm earlier findings that HAR is associated with udder health and should
therefore be considered in future research and mastitis control programs. First indications of negative  associations between herd stress level and mastitis curing capacity should be followed up in future studies.

Last updated on 2018-30-07 at 13:47