Cows and teenagers both get moo-dy, B.C. researchers say

First-of-its-kind study on dairy cattle could prove useful for farmers, researchers say

A UBC study released Feb. 12, 2020, has drawn parallels between dairy calves and human teenagers undergoing puberty. In this Aug. 31, 2016, file photo, a Holstein cow stands in a pasture at a dairyfarm near Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

It turns out the months – which can feel like years – of teenage angst isn’t just seen in the human household but also in the farm animal kingdom, according to a group of scientists at the University of B.C.

On Wednesday, researchers from the animal welfare program at UBC released findings from a long-term study which aimed to understand the development of personality traits over a dairy cow’s lifespan, which is roughly five years. Unsurprisingly, the study is the first of its kind into farm animal species behaviour.

The research, led by UBC professor Marina von Keyserlingk, involved observing how calves and cows reacted when placed in a new environment alongside a person they had never met before and a new object.

“Some calves and cows will immediately approach and investigate the object or human, or explore the new environment, while others will never touch the object or human and stand still for the duration of the test,” von Keyserlingk said in a news release. “We interpret the collection of these behaviours as reflecting two key personality traits: bold and exploratory.”

While calves between the age of three months and one year old won’t roll their eyes, make sassy remarks or slam their bedroom door shut, the study found a noticeable difference in a calf’s personality once they reach sexual maturity.

ALSO READ: Some cows are sadder than others, UBC study found

“This phenomenon is similar to that seen in humans, where teenagers often will express different personalities to that of when they were younger, and may again express different personalities when they grow up,” von Keyserlingk said.

“These changes in personality around puberty are also seen in squid, fish, junglefowl, and mammals like hamsters and mice.”

Researchers expect that a cow’s altered personality is linked to changing hormones. Dairy cattle are often mixed with new animals, or placed in new pens with new feeding equipment which also could play a role, the study suggests.

Researchers also found that calves that acted exploratory in the test situations generally ate more and gained more weight in order to produce more milk, compared to cows that reacted more fearfully of humans.

“These findings are important because they show that personality traits can be a useful indication of which animals will be most (or least) productive on the farm at different life stages,” said professor Marina von Keyserlingk, the study’s senior author, in a news release.

“Farmers could potentially identify calves and cows on the basis of personality who are likely to do well or poorly when faced with stressful farm-management practices.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Science

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: District of Kent announces property tax break

Second provincial late payment penalty delayed until October

‘Difficult but necessary’ – local parks, trails, rec sites closed amid pandemic

Several closures by province in area due to physical distancing concerns

Organ donation gives Fraser Valley RCMP officer a second chance at life

Cathleen Falebrinza celebrates Green Shirt Day after receiving a double lung transplant in 2016.

Stay off the tracks and stay alert, rail police warn

Last year, seven were killed and 10 seriously injured in rail crossing, trespassing incidents

Open houses discouraged as Chilliwack realtors look for a way forward

March saw strong sales but April likely to see lower numbers

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

B.C. sorting medical equipment sales, donation offers for COVID-19

Supply hub has call out for masks, gowns, coronavirus swabs

B.C. records five more deaths due to COVID-19, 45 new cases

A total of 838 people have recovered from the virus

Major crimes investigating sudden death of North Okanagan child

The 8 year old was flown to Kelowna General Hospital and died hours later

BC institution has highest number of positive results for COVID-19

11 inmates in Mission test positive for coronavirus, more than any other federal prison in Canada

Easter Bunny added to B.C.’s list of essential workers

Premier John Horgan authorizes bunny to spread “eggs-ellent cheer” throughout province

Travellers returning to B.C. must have self-isolation plan or face quarantine: Horgan

Premier John Horgan says forms must be filled out by travellers

More than 400 animals have been adopted amid pandemic: B.C. SPCA

People are taking this time of social distancing to find a loyal companion through the animal welfare group

Most Read