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Is cows' qualitatively assessed behaviour towards humans related to their general stress level?

Ivemeyer, Silvia; Ebinghaus, Asja; Simantke, Christel; Palme, Rupert and Knierim, Ute (2019) Is cows' qualitatively assessed behaviour towards humans related to their general stress level? In: Proceedings of the Congress of the ISAE, 5.- 9. August 2019, Bergen, Norway, Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, no. 53, p. 217.

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The stress level is considered as one important aspect of dairy cow welfare. Beside aspects of housing, management and social herd stressors, stress might also be related to the human-animal relationship (HAR). An established and non-invasive physiological method to assess medium-term stress is the measurement of fecal cortisol metabolites (FCM), reflecting the adrenocortical activity over several hours with a delay of 8-10 hours due to gut passage time. For the assessment of the HAR, behavioural tests recording the cows´ responses towards humans can be used. Beside quantitative methods, e.g. recording the cows´ avoidance distances towards humans, also the qualitative behaviour assessment (QBA) assessing the cows´ body language have been shown to be reliably applicable. Thereby, QBA might reflect the cows´ responses in a more differentiated way than quantitative measures. Using data from 316 dairy cows on 25 German organic dairy farms regarding QBA during a standardised tactile human-animal interaction and FCM recorded on the same day, but with time differences varying between 0-10 h (during winter 2015/16 and 2016/17), we asked whether the cows’ qualitatively assessed behaviour towards humans is related to their general medium-term stress level. For QBA we used a fixed list of 20 descriptors, which had specifically been developed for this purpose. A principal component analysis (PCA) resulted in two components: PC1 explained 67% of variance and appeared to reflect ‘positive’ (pos) and ‘negative’ (neg) valence (characteristic descriptors pos: e.g. trustful, relaxed; neg: e.g. fearful, distressed). PC2 explained 7% of variance and appeared to reflect the level of activation (‘high’ activation: e.g. contact-seeking, aggressive; ‘low’ activation: e.g. patient, insecure). Dividing the sample into four groups (pos_low, pos_high, neg_low, neg_high) using the medians of PC1 and PC2 as cut-points, we compared FCM levels (11,17 dioxoandrostanes, enzyme immunoassay method) by Kruskal-Wallis and post-hoc Wilcoxon rank-sum tests. Groups of cows classified by QBA differed regarding FCM (P=0.010, Kruskal-Wallis test). Cows reacting pos_high during the human-animal interaction (n=65), pos_low (n=93) and neg_low (n=99) had similar FCM levels (medians of 12.0, 10.3 and 10.4; 25-75% quartiles: 6.8-22.8, 4.9-22.0, and 4.2-18.5 ng/g FCM; P=0.225-0.699, Wilcoxon tests). In contrast, neg_high cows had significantly lower FCM levels (6.5 ng/g, 3.7-12.5, n=59) than all other groups (P=0.001-0.029). Neg_high cows presumably had higher fear levels towards humans than pos cows, and expressed this more actively than neg_low cows. Unexpectedly, however, the neg reaction was not related to a generally higher stress level. In this context, it must be taken into account that FCM medians and variation in the investigated sample were generally on a low level. Furthermore, other factors such as social rank or health status might have affected results more profoundly, deserving a more complex analysis including individual factors as a next step.

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Poster
Keywords:OrganicDairyHealth, Core Organic Plus, cows, animal behaviour, BÖLN, BOELN, BÖL, BOEL, FKZ 14OE003
Subjects: Animal husbandry > Production systems > Dairy cattle
Animal husbandry > Health and welfare
Research affiliation:Austria > Univ. VMU Wien
Germany > Federal Organic Farming Scheme - BOELN > Animals > Tiergesundheit
Germany > University of Kassel > Department of Farm Animal Behaviour and Husbandry
European Union > CORE Organic Plus > ORGANICDAIRYHEALTH
Related Links:https://www.bundesprogramm.de, https://orgprints.org/cgi/search/advanced?addtitle%2Ftitle=&keywords=14OE003&projects=BOEL&_order=bypublication&_action_search=Suchen, http://projects.au.dk/coreorganicplus/research-projects/organicdairyhealth/
Deposited By: Ivemeyer, Dr. Silvia
ID Code:36351
Deposited On:16 Aug 2019 08:17
Last Modified:16 Aug 2019 08:19
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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