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A Novel Operant Conditioning Test to Determine Whether Dairy Cows Dislike Passageways That are Dark or Covered with Excreta

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Both the presence of slurry and dark conditions may deter dairy cows from using passageways in cubicle accommodation, thus restricting movement and normal behaviour. We attempted to train seven dairy cows to recognize the quantity of reward offered in a transparent tube containing molasses in a Y-maze. Only one cow failed to consistently select the aisle containing the larger reward. The cows were then individually offered the choice of traversing either a passageway with a 5cm-depth of cow excreta or a clean, dry passageway to collect their rewards. The quantity of the rewards on the two sides was varied between zero and 400ml of molasses to determine the price that the cows were prepared to pay for entering the aisle with excreta. Only two of the seven cows showed a clear avoidance of the passageway with excreta. There was a tendency (P < 0.1) for the cows to avoid the passageway with excreta only when it contained no reward and the clean passageway contained a reward of 400ml molasses. Otherwise, there was no clear avoidance of the passageway with excreta. We also investigated whether cows preferred to enter a lighted or unlighted passageway. All the cows, except one, showed a strong avoidance of the dark passage, even when it contained the largest reward and the lighted passage contained no reward. We conclude that dairy cows demonstrate only mild avoidance of passageways with excreta but strongly avoid passageways without lighting. Therefore, we suggest that passageways for dairy cows should be lit at all times.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2001


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