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Effect of short and long periods of separation on agonistic behaviour, injuries and stress in Hérens cows kept in loose housing

By Isabelle M. L. Castro, Lorenz Gygax, Beat Wechsler, Rudolf Hauser

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Abstract

Hérens cows are typically not dehorned and are therefore housed in tie-barns during winter. Recently, however, farmers have started to also use loose housing systems. They separate single cows from their herd for periods of a few days to ensure undisturbed calving and to avoid excessive activity caused by animals in oestrus. As these cows are highly motivated to fight, the re-introduction of individuals after separation is usually associated with increased agonistic behaviour. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of the length of separation with regard to behaviour, injuries and stress response. The study was conducted with 45 focal horned Hérens cows kept in four groups of 10, 20, 18 and 21 cows respectively on two Swiss farms: two groups were kept as suckler cows and two groups as dairy cows. Each focal cow was separated on two occasions, once for a short (median: 1 day; high oestrus in dairy, late pregnancy or lactation in suckler cows) and once for a longer (median: 2 days; high oestrus in dairy, calving in suckler cows) period. During the 6h following the re-introduction, agonistic behaviour was recorded. Occurrence of fresh wounds was noted 10h after re-introduction. As an indicator of physiological stress, faecal samples were collected and concentrations of the cortisol metabolite 11,17-dioxoandrostanes (11,17-DOA) were determined. All data were analysed using generalised linear mixed-effects models. Frequency and duration of agonistic interaction increased with longer separation (p

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 136
Issue 2
Pages 96-103
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.12.006
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Tags
  1. Agonistic behavior
  2. Cattle
  3. Feces
  4. Housing
  5. Injuries