Methodological aspects for the assessment of social behaviour and avoidance distance on dairy farms
Some aspects of on-farm assessment of social behaviour and avoidance distance were investigated on 20 Austrian dairy farms. The avoidance distance of at least 75% of cows was assessed. Social behaviour of the cows was observed for one hour and the number of animals standing was recorded every 10 min. Lameness of each animal was scored, and Spearman correlations were calculated. Generally, the avoidance distance of the cows was very low. Lameness did not correlate significantly with avoidance distance. The number of agonistic interactions with body contact per cow correlated negatively with the percentage of lame animals (rs = −0.49; P = 0.029). However, this correlation was no longer found (rs = –0.22; not significant) when calculated on the basis of standing animals only. The total number of social interactions correlated highly with the number of social interactions when interactions in the feeding rack were disregarded. The present study suggests that lameness confounds the assessment of social behaviour but not that of avoidance distance of cows, and that social interactions of animals standing in the feeding racks can be disregarded without decreasing the reliability of the assessments.
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