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Correlations between self-grooming behaviour and stress or discomfort have been found in various mammals, including the domestic cow. The present study has investigated the potential of observing how cows use a mechanical brush, such as brushing intensity and which body regions they brush, as indicators of their affective state and wellbeing. 12 non-lactating cows were exposed to three different treatments; one-minute restraint and elevation of the head, a catheterization procedure in the neck and a control treatment where no aversive treatment was applied to the cow before getting access to a mechanical brush. The cows showed significantly more “high intensity brushing” following restraint compared with following no restraint suggesting this behaviour to be connected with acute stress. High intensity brushing meant making body movement towards the brush that affected the movement of the brush. The withers were brushed significantly more in the control treatment compared to the two aversive treatments, suggesting this area to reflect a more positive state. Active brushing significantly decreased with time spent brushing during the brush visit. The cows had gone through different number of lactation periods/number of calvings before the experiment. This were seen to significantly affect all parameters of brushing behaviour investigated, wherefore lactation number should be considered when investigating brushing behaviour in cows. As a conclusion, the brushing intensity and which regions dairy cows brush have the potential to reflect their emotional states before getting access to the brush.

Responsible for this page: Agneta Johansson
Last updated: 06/28/16