Assessing the animals' relationship to humans in tied dairy cows: between-experimenter repeatability of measuring avoidance reactions
Abstract:Tests for assessing the animal-human relationship in tied dairy cows have been used in experimental research, but the reliability and feasibility of the measures in the on-farm context has not been studied yet. Therefore we investigated the between-experimenter repeatability of avoidance reactions in dairy cows housed in tie-stall systems. Nine farms in Austria with 15-60 tethered dairy cows were visited. Two to three out of four experimenters were testing the avoidance reaction of the individual cows in a balanced order. Cows were approached slowly from the front and the reactions recorded on an 11-point score. The avoidance reaction of each cow was assessed twice by each experimenter and averaged. Also, a farm value per experimenter was calculated (median). Repeatability between experimenters was assessed within farms and at farm level by calculating Spearman rank correlation coefficients. The average between-experimenter correlations within farms ranged from 0.37 to 0.88. At farm level, median of scores ranged from 2.5 to 6.75 and correlated moderately to highly between experimenters from 0.65 to 0.80. Testing the animals on all farms was relatively simple.
The between-experimenter repeatability within farms differed substantially and reasons for this merit further investigation. At farm level repeatability was moderate to sufficiently high. Due to the high feasibility, this measure seems to be promising and should be developed further.