Studying the (friendly) herd mentality

How cows make friends is to be investigated in a three-year study.

Scientists want to understand more about “social networking” within dairy herds.

The aim is to help farmers improve the health and welfare of their cows, thereby increasing milk yields.

For the first stage of the research, high-tech “proximity collars” have been fitted to cows on a farm in Cullompton in Devon, England.

The collars use radio signals to determine how close one cow is to another, allowing scientists to map the animals’ social interactions.

Study leader Dr Darren Croft from the University of Exeter’s Animal Behaviour Research Group, said: “Emerging evidence on wild animal populations supports the idea that the group structure and relationships between the animals affect their health and wellbeing.

“Cows are social animals that form important group structures, and the addition or removal of animals from an established group can significantly alter its dynamics. We want to find out just how important these group structures are.

“Dairy farmers take a range of factors into account when deciding how to structure groups of cows.

“We hope that the results of our study may contribute towards a blueprint for herd management that will help farmers continue to improve the health and welfare of their cows.”

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