Dairy cows feeling cheesed off by animal lockdown - QUB researchers

New research led by Queen’s University Belfast has found that “livestock lockdown” may damage emotional wellbeing in dairy cows.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:03 am
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:17 am

The research has been published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

In humans, negative moods are linked to pessimistic judgments about ambiguous stimuli, e.g., depression and anxiety sufferers tend to expect fewer positive outcomes in life.

By contrast, happy emotions and moods are linked to more optimistic judgments.

The QUB study looked at the attitudes of cows that live outdoors and indoors.

This study is the first of its kind to investigate whether dairy cows also have this judgment bias, and whether optimistic judgments can be used as an indicator of psychological wellbeing.

Dr Gareth Arnott, senior lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Queen’s University and principal investigator on the research, explained: “Animal welfare scientists and dairy consumers have long been concerned that depriving dairy cattle of pasture access harms their welfare.

“Pasture access can promote natural behaviour, improve cows’ health, and cows given the choice spend most of their time outside.

“However, the effects of pasture access on dairy cows’ psychological wellbeing have been poorly understood.”

To conduct their study the researchers gave 29 Holstein-Friesian dairy cows 18 days of overnight pasture access (which previous studies suggest improves wellbeing) and 18 days of full-time indoor housing (which previous studies suggest harms welfare).

Each cow was then trained to approach a food rewarded bucket location, but not approach another, unrewarded bucket location. After learning this task, to test judgment bias, the researchers presented cows with buckets in between the trained locations. The researchers found cows kept indoors full-time were faster to approach the known rewarded bucket location.

However, the research said it had found Britain and Ireland have mostly resisted the trend towards housing dairy cows indoors full-time.

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