Electronic technologies offer new opportunities to control the spatial positioning and social groupings of cattle. This study examines the potential for cattle to be trained by associative learning so that they avoid a feed attractant when cued by electrical stimuli delivered by radio-controlled collars. In the first experiment, 12 heifers were fed hay from a trough for 14 days, and then trained using electrical stimuli on four occasions (days 15, 21, 28 and 239) to remain outside a 5 m exclusion zone (EZ) around the trough. When heifers reached the EZ boundary an electrical stimulus (600 V and 250 mW) was applied for a maximum of 5 s. When animals stopped, turned away or exited the EZ the stimulus was terminated. One heifer reached the trough on day 15 and two heifers reached the trough on day 21. None reached the trough on days 28 or 239. On average over the four tests, 43% of heifer responses to the electric shock were to turn away from the direction of movement, 26% to back-up, 18% to stop, 3% to continue forward at a walk and 10% to continue forward at a run. The duration of the stimulus required did not differ over the tests, however fewer stimuli were required on days 28 and 239 than on days 15 and 21 (P<0.01), suggesting that heifers had learned to associate the aversive stimulus with the trough and to not enter the EZ. In the second experiment, 20 heifers were tested using two methods of training in a cross-over study, one method based on associative learning and the other, an uncoupled stimulus-response training method, in which the duration of electric stimulation was not coupled to the behavioural response of the animals. There was a significant carry-over effect, therefore treatment effects were examined only in the first period. A greater number of heifers reached the trough using the uncoupled stimulus-response training method (10 heifers) than the conditioning method (two heifers; P<0.001). The alteration in the behavioural responses, as a result of the use of the uncoupled stimulus-response training method in period 1 on subsequent responses to the conditioning method in period 2, provided evidence that learning of appropriate responses can be disrupted if the method used is not consistent with associative learning principles.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||CSIRO Food Futures Flagship and CSIRO Livestock Industries, FD Mcmaster Laboratory, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia. Caroline.Lee@csiro.au|
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