Mood swings are a well-known part of puberty, and it seems that’s it’s not just humans. Canadian research suggests dairy cows can be moody teenagers too.
A team from the University of British Columbia investigated personality traits in dairy cows from birth to adulthood and found that while they are pretty stable during the earlier and later stages of development, during puberty their behaviour becomes a little less predictable.
“We found that cattle were consistent in their behavioural responses to novelty during the early rearing periods (from pre- to post-weaning), and during the later periods of development (from puberty to lactation),” they write in paper in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“The personality trait ‘boldness’ was also highly consistent during these periods.
“However, individual consistency of behaviours and personality traits were generally poor across the major developmental period of puberty (from pre-weaning to lactation, and from post-weaning to lactation).”
The cows of different development stages were put through personality tests, with observers watching how they behaved alone and then around unfamiliar objects or people.
They found that there was no clear pattern to a cow’s behaviour during puberty.
Some cows became shy, others became bold. Some wanted to interact with new people and objects, whereas others had no interest.
The researchers suggest that the major physiological changes that occur during puberty may explain the inconsistency in behaviours and personality traits.
“Steroid hormones around puberty give rise to reproduction-related behaviours typically involving increased risk-taking, exploratory and agonistic behaviours…”
Previously, the happiness of dairy cows has been linked to productivity and their welfare and the researchers suggest their findings may further assist in the management of commercial dairy cattle.
“Given that personality traits were consistent from pre- to postweaning, and from puberty to first lactation, there is potential to identify individuals at these ages that are most likely to do well or poorly when faced with stressful farm management practices.”
Amelia Nichele is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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