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Keep Heifer Regrouping to a Minimum

Taylor Leach

It’s a well-known fact that cattle are social creatures. But studies have shown that even the friendliest cow doesn’t enjoy making new acquaintances on a regular basis.

A recent study conducted at the University of British Columbia examined the effect constant regrouping has on animal behavior, specifically anhedonia, or their ability to experience pleasure.

Sixteen six-month-old heifers were trained to use a mechanical brush, a form of technology typically associated with pleasure, and then given the opportunity to individually brush themselves for 10 minutes every two days. The time these animals spent brushing themselves was recorded before, during and after regrouping with the assumption that heifers would reduce their use of the brush during regrouping.

Throughout the study, each heifer was individually regrouped into a new social group composed of 12 older and unfamiliar heifers. These heifers were then allowed to brush themselves in their new pens for the next 8 to 56 hours. Once the 56 hours were up, the 16 heifers were then brought back to their original pen and allowed to mingle with their familiar pen-mates before being tested again two and four days later.

Researchers discovered that after the heifers were regrouped, the time they spent brushing themselves dropped by an average of 44%. However, at the 56-hour mark, no differences in brushing were detected.

According to the scientists, these results indicate that regrouping is a stressful experience for cattle and that it reduces their ability to experience pleasure on the day of regrouping. Making this a normal routine for the animals may induce a more negative mood and therefore maintaining dairy cattle in stable social groups should be favored.



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