BIOREC PhD Project 5: Effect of the early social environment on welfare and later challenge responses in dairy cattle.

PhD student: Kathrin WAGNER, Animal Husbandry and Animal Welfare  1

Supervisors: Susanne WAIBLINGER 2, Rupert PALME 3

Abstract: Effects of different social experiences during early life phases on later personality characteristics influencing social skills and coping success in social and non-social challenging situations have been shown in several species. However, large mammals with a long juvenile period such as cattle have rarely been investigated, although the permanence of possible effects during the first weeks of life up to adulthood is of special interest. In dairy cows, early social deprivation is quite common, while development of appropriate social skills may be essential for coping successfully with the later social challenges in a dairy herd and thus for welfare state, disease susceptibility and (re)production of dairy cows. The aim of the project is to investigate potential effects of the early social environment on welfare and health of dairy cattle from birth up to their first lactations and underlying mechanisms. The specific objectives are to investigate the potential effects of early social environment (1) immediately on welfare (health, stress physiology, behaviour), behaviour and challenge responses of dairy calves and (2) in the long-term on later ability to cope with social and non-social environmental challenges such as regrouping, reactions to novelty or humans. Calves running with and suckling their mothers will be compared with artificially reared calves kept in groups. Preliminary results suggest that heifers having had access to their mother during the first 12 weeks of life indeed better cope with the challenge of introduction into the cow herd.

 

Kathrin WAGNER, Dipl. biol.

Animal Husbandry and Animal Welfare
Department for Farm Animals and Veterinary Public Health

Working hypothesis: Early social environment immediately affects welfare, behaviour and challenge responses of dairy calves and on later ability to cope with social and non-social environmental challenges.