Influence of Herd Size on Human–Cow Relationships

Authors: Waiblinger, Susanne; Menke, Christoph

Source: Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 1 December 1999, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 240-247(8)


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Large herds pose the risk of worsening human–cattle relationships by reducing human contact and thus increasing the risk of accidents. In a survey on 35 dairy farms in Switzerland and Germany, different aspects of human–cow relationships were investigated. The effects of size of herd compared to other factors are presented here. Size of herds in the study varied from eight to 92 cows. On 35 farms the behavior of stockpersons toward their cows was observed directly during milking; personality characteristics of stockpersons were obtained by self-report-inventories, and a questionnaire on management practices was completed. Cows' avoidance distances toward a person were measured, and the social behavior of herds was observed directly.

Size of herd correlated significantly negatively with the percentage of cows with an avoidance distance of zero (rs=-0.52, p≤0.01), but there was no correlation with the median of avoidance distances per herd. Concerning the behavior of stockpersons, size of herd showed a significant negative correlation with the intensity/quality of contact with the cows (rs=-0.51, p≤0.05), and a slightly significant correlation with the total number of talking to/touching interactions with the cows in the milking parlor (rs=-34, p≤0.05). Quality of handling was not affected by size of herd, but the ability of the stockpersons to identify cows (rs=-0.59, p≤0.001), and the frequency of brushing cows decreased with increasing sizes of herd (rs=-0.52, p≤0.01). In regression analysis, the influence of size of herd on the intensity/quality of contact (CON) was confirmed, but showed a much smaller effect than the personality or attitudes of the stockpersons. Additionally, size of herd had no effect on avoidance distances. This was due to the elimination of the effects of CON.

The small influence of size of herd on human-animal relationship parameters was mediated by the intensity of contact with the cows, but is much less important compared to other factors, e.g. the personality and attitudes of stockpersons. Smaller herds facilitated good relationships between a stockperson and his/her cows, but good human–animal relationships were also possible in big herds, and were observed even in the biggest herd (92 cows).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 1999

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