(FARM ANIMALS) The value of friendship is immeasurable, as studies say maintaining these relationships can improve mental and physical health, add years to your life and ensure an overall happy wellbeing. Researchers in the UK are highlighting this factor during a study on cow social structure and interactions. Scientists are hoping to determine how social interactions can influence cow health, welfare and milk yield. Hopefully this research doesn’t just lead to increase sales for dairy farmers, but improvements in the treatment and lives of these cows. — Global Animal
British scientists are to study the ‘social network’ of dairy cows to explore how relationships between them affect their health and productivity.
The three-year project will combine the use of high tech ‘proximity collars’ with observations of cow behaviour on dairy farms to investigate the social dynamics within herds of cattle.
British dairy farmers produce billions of litres of milk each year – drink enough to fill 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools – and emerging evidence supports a link between dairy cow health and welfare and how much milk they produce.
The study by scientists from the University of Exeter will explore the theory further by investigating how social relationships between cows affect their health, welfare and productivity.
Led by Dr Darren Croft of the University’s Animal Behaviour Research Group, the first stage of the research is currently underway on a dairy farm in Devon.
The cows on Orway Porch Farm in Cullompton have been fitted with collars that use radio signals to determine their proximity to one another, enabling the team to map social interactions and, in combination with observational studies, determine how the nature of those relationships may influence their health status and productivity.
Dr Croft said: “Emerging evidence on wild animal populations supports the idea that the group structure and relationships between the animals affect their health and well-being.
“Cows are social animals that form important group structures, and the addition or removal of animals from an established group can significantly alter its dynamics. We want to find out just how important these group structures are.
“Dairy farmers take a range of factors into account when deciding how to structure groups of cows. We hope that the results of our study may contribute towards a blueprint for herd management that will help farmers continue to improve the health and welfare of their cows.”
Natasha Boyland, a PhD student who will be based in the field observing cow behaviour throughout the study, said: “We will look at the nature of the interactions to see just how relationships are formed and maintained within the herd.
“In combination with the proximity data findings and other information about the animals, such as their health status, we hope to gather evidence that can be translated into practical advice for farmers when it comes to herd management.”
The study is being co-funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DairyCo, a levy-funded organisation working on behalf of British dairy farmers.
The first phase of the study is underway on Orway Porch Farm which uses a robotic milking system. The farms taking part in the later stages of the research project will be selected to represent other common dairy farming systems in Britain.
The findings will be delivered in 2015 and shared nationally with farmers who could potentially use them to boost cows’ health, welfare and milk production.
Amanda Ball, head of communications at DairyCo, said: “This study could help dairy farmers understand more about their cows, improve their health and welfare and may even contribute towards helping to secure the future supply of milk to consumers.
“The dairy industry is worth £8 billion a year to the UK economy and it is important to support research that can help farmers continue to provide consumers with top quality dairy products whilst putting the health and welfare of their cows first.”