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Gentle interactions decrease the fear of humans in dairy heifers independently of early experience of stroking

By Stephanie Lürzel, Ines Windschnurer, Andreas Futschik, Susanne Waiblinger

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Abstract

The relationship of farmed animals with humans has important implications for animal welfare and productivity. To investigate the short- and long-term effect of gentle interactions (stroking, talking in a gentle voice) during different life stages on the fear of humans, we tested heifers that had or had not experienced gentle interactions as calves in a previous experiment on a large commercial farm. We investigated a) whether the reduction in calves’ avoidance distance caused by gentle interactions was still detectable one year later, b) whether a second treatment with gentle interactions would be effective in reducing the avoidance distance of heifers and c) whether there were cumulative effects of the two treatment phases. We provided a total of 42min of voluntary gentle interactions to 45 of 79 heifers, resulting in a cross-over design with four groups that had been stroked as calves; or as heifers; or both as calves and heifers; or not at all. We measured the avoidance distance before, 1day after and 5 weeks after the treatment phase. There was no significant difference between heifers stroked or not stroked as calves in the avoidance distance measured before the treatment. All heifers that were stroked had an avoidance distance of 0cm towards the experimenter after the treatment, and the decrease in avoidance distance was significantly higher than in non-stroked heifers (p

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 178
Pages 16-22
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.02.012
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Tags
  1. Avoidance
  2. Calves
  3. Cattle
  4. Human-animal relationships
  5. Interactions
  6. stroking