A study into cattle welfare has demonstrated a series of changes to handling procedures that reduce stress in the animals – including some unexpected measures that are both simple and unusual.
The study, led by Maria Lucia Pereira Lima and including prominent animal behaviourist Temple Grandin, looked at the design and use of corrals on Brazilian cattle ranches.
Corrals, in Brazil as elsewhere, are frequently used to gather cattle together for routine procedures such as vaccination and veterinary inspection, as well as preparatory to loading the animals on trucks for transport to market or between properties.
Not surprisingly, the scientists found that reducing the use of electric prods and dogs resulted in measurable decreases in the levels of cortisol – the so-called “stress hormone” – in the blood of cows when they exited the holding area.
Less expected, however, was the discovery that removing splashes of brightly coloured paint on fencing, contrasting colours, puddles and even shadowy areas had the same effect.
To make their findings, the scientists test individual cows positioned in a holding chute, before and after the design changes were made. They discovered that cortisol levels dropped from an average of 60 nanograms per millilitre to 42 nanograms per millilitre.
In a paper published in the journal Animal Health and Production, the researchers also report other successful stress reduction measures, including blocking farm workers from view, and using flags to induce cattle to move from one area to another.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.