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Opportunities (and challenges) in dairy cattle cognition research: A key area needed to design future high welfare housing systems

Nawroth, C.; Rorvang, M. V.


The ability of dairy cattle to adapt to husbandry systems and management routines is crucial for ensuring higher welfare and efficient production. However, this ability can be compromised by our limited knowledge of their cognitive abilities, which may result in suboptimal husbandry and management standards. In this narrative review, we highlight three topics of cattle cognition research that are currently understudied, and yet key to developing future high welfare dairy cattle housing systems: 1) transmission of information from cow to calf, 2) mechanisms to attenuate fear, and 3) cognitive processes involved in the human-cattle relationship. We review the currently available literature on all three topics and highlight promising research areas from an animal husbandry point of view. We conclude that future studies should focus on elucidating what, and how much, calves learn from their dam during prolonged cow-calf contact in dairy cattle systems. Such information could constitute an important part of the discussion of whether to keep cows and calves together for a longer time after calving in the dairy industry. Fear in the cattle group might be lowered by the use of calm companions and future studies could uncover if attenuation of fear might even be induced by conditioning positive experiences of cattle with unrelated stimuli such as odours. Lastly, the human-cattle relationship might benefit from utilising the already established training regimes from other species, for example positive reinforcement training or target training, which may have the potential to decrease risk of injury during handling for both the cow and the handler.


Bovidae; Cattle management; Human -animal relationship; Learning; Social behaviour

Publicerad i

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2022, Volym: 255, artikelnummer: 105727
Utgivare: ELSEVIER