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Social Behaviour and Injuries of Horned Cows in Loose Housing Systems

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The relationship between social behaviour and skin injuries (caused by horns) of loose housed horned cows was investigated on 35 dairy farms. While the frequencies of two agonistic behaviour elements (push and chase away) were positively correlated with the occurrence of skin injuries, the frequencies of butting and homing were not. Butting appears to have an ambivalent motivation, in that its occurrence is correlated positively both with agonistic behaviour and with social licking. Horning showed a positive correlation with social licking only. Four groups of husbandry conditions that may be associated with the occurrence of social behaviour and of injuries were distinguished: i) herd management, with variables including problem solving management by the farmer, integration of new cows, and dealing with periparturient and oestrus cows; ii) human-animal relationship, with variables including ability to identify individual cows, frequency of brushing the cows, number of milkers, and frequency of personnel changes; iii) animal characteristics, with the variable of herd size; and iv) stable characteristics, with the variable of space per cow (m2). The relevance of the husbandry variables investigated here had been confirmed in a previous stepwise regression analysis (Menke 1996). The variables for herd management and human-animal relationship conditions correlated in a consistent way with the occurrence of agonistic behaviour and/or of injuries, while most of them also correlated in the opposite direction with the occurrence of social licking. Herd size correlated positively with agonistic behaviour, but negatively with social licking. Space per cow correlated negatively with agonistic behaviour and injuries. In more than 70 per cent of the herds investigated, the levels of agonistic behaviour and of skin injuries were low, implying that horned dairy cows can be kept with less risk than is often assumed. We argue that such risks strongly depend on management factors that can be improved.
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Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; HORNED DAIRY COWS; HUMAN-ANIMAL RELATIONSHIP; INJURIES; LOOSE HOUSING; MANAGEMENT; SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 1999

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