Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2013

Abstract

This study examined whether observers could distinguish between cattle that were exposed to various road transport conditions: Experiment 1 compared a manipulated flooring treatment (non-grip flooring, NG) with a control transport event (grip flooring, G) and Experiment 2 compared a manipulated driving style (stop-start driving, SS) with a control transport event of smooth, continuous (C) driving. The behavioural expression of cattle was assessed through the process of Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA), and these assessments were tested for correlation with various physiological parameters. Fourteen Angus steers were assessed. Blood samples were collected immediately before and after transport, and heart rate and core body temperature were measured continuously throughout each transport event. Continuous video footage recorded during each transport event was edited to isolate short clips of individual animals which were randomly ordered and shown to observers for QBA and analysis by Generalised Procrustes Analysis (GPA) which identifies common dimensions of behavioural expression. There was significant consensus amongst 39 observers in their assessment of behavioural expression of the cattle (P < 0.001). In Experiment 1, observers scored cattle exposed to NG flooring during road transport relatively higher (on visual analogue scales) for terms such as ‘agitated’, ‘restless’ and ‘anxious’ compared with cattle exposed to G flooring, which were scored higher for ‘calm’, ‘comfortable’ and ‘relaxed’ (GPA dimension 1, P < 0.001). In Experiment 2, cattle exposed to SS driving received higher average GPA dimension 1 scores (P < 0.01) and higher GPA dimension 2 scores (P < 0.05). These cattle were therefore scored relatively higher for terms such as ‘restless’, ‘agitated’ and ‘scared’ (GPA dimension 1) or ‘curious’, ‘interested’ and ‘inquisitive’ (GPA dimension 2) compared with cattle exposed to C driving, which were scored higher for ‘calm’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘comfortable’ (GPA dimension 1), or ‘stressed’, ‘tense’ and ‘alert’ (GPA dimension 2). There were some significant correlations between physiological responses and behavioural expression of animals for both experiments, with informative correlations between the different dimensions of behavioural expression and white blood cell counts, red blood cell parameters and heart rate. For example, the neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio, a typical marker of stress in ruminants, was elevated in cattle that were described as more ‘agitated’, ‘restless’ and ‘anxious’ (G-NG flooring: GPA dimension 1) or ‘stressed’, ‘tense’ and ‘alert’ (C-SS driving: GPA dimension 2). These results suggest that the QBA process captured behavioural manifestations of stress in cattle. We conclude that QBA is a valuable method of assessing cattle welfare under the conditions tested since there was significant consensus in the ability of human observers to interpret behavioural expression of cattle during these experimental conditions (i.e. QBA is repeatable), observers could distinguish between transport treatments on the basis of the animals’ QBA scores, and these scores were correlated with meaningful physiological measures.

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