Cows are stressed out by puddles and colour, study finds

New research recommends minor changes on farms to create happier bovines

Puddles, splashes of colour in cow pens, noisy farmers and barking dogs make for unhappy and significantly more stressed cattle, a major international study has found. File photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Puddles, splashes of colour in cow pens, noisy farmers and barking dogs make for unhappy and significantly more stressed cattle, a major international study has found. File photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

 

Puddles, splashes of colour in cow pens, noisy farmers and barking dogs make for unhappy and significantly more stressed cattle, a major international study has found.

Minor changes in cow pens can cut the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in cattle by one-third, according to the research, which was carried out in Brazil and published by the Tropical Animal Health and Production journal.

“Interventions incorporated into the corral included the installation of a solid panel to block the cows’ view of the handler when he was working within the path of the animals,” said the study.

“Bright objects or ones with definite colour contrasts were removed, while water puddles were filled with dirt. Shadowy or dark areas with a high contrast between light and dark were also cut out.

“Handlers received one-off training on how to work calmly and quietly with the animals. They were instructed not to shout, push or hit the cows, or to use dogs or electric prods.

“The handlers had to walk slowly to move the cows, and were advised to only use flags to encourage the flow of animals.”

Such changes caused the levels of cortisol in cattle blood samples to drop from 60.4ng/ml to 41ng/ml.

Irish interest

The study involved the Nellore breed of cattle common to farms across Brazil, and which is known to become particularly excited when placed under stress.

However, it has relevance for Irish farmers. A Health and Safety Authority conference will hear on Friday that half of all deaths caused by farm animals in Ireland between 2006 and 2015 involved cows or heifers.

Commenting on the topic, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association livestock committee chairman Michael Guinan urged farmers to maintain a relaxed environment when exposing their herds to confined spaces.

“Farmers are now very conscious of such matters in the interest of both the farmer and animal safety and welfare, and facilities are now consciously designed in the interest of safety and ease of handling,” he said.

“Stressed animals make essential tasks significantly more difficult and farmers completely understand that it’s in everyone’s interests to keep stock and environment as calm and relaxed as possible.”