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The influence of gentle interactions with an experimenter during milking on dairy cows’ avoidance distance and milk yield, flow and composition

  • S. Lürzel (a1), K. Barth (a2), I. Windschnurer (a1), A. Futschik (a3) and S. Waiblinger (a1)...

Cattle’s relationship with humans is a crucial factor regarding their welfare. In dairy cows, interactions with humans occur regularly during milking. We tested the effect of gentle interactions (stroking, talking in a gentle voice) during milking on avoidance distance and milk composition, yield and flow characteristics as well as behaviour during milking. Over the course of 15 days, an experimenter interacted gently with 14 German Holstein cows for 2 min during morning and evening milkings, totalling 60 min; the experimenter stayed at a similar distance to 12 control cows of the same breed for the same amount of time. There were no significant differences between the groups in behaviour during milking. Over the course of the experimental phase, avoidance distance at the feeding rack decreased significantly in stroked but not in control cows. The treatment did not improve any of the measures of milk composition, yield or flow; on the 1st day of the treatment, milk ejection was impaired in stroked cows, which points towards an effect of the novelty of the treatment. We conclude that gentle interactions during milking improve the relationship between cows and a human. Possible reasons for the absence of an effect on milk characteristics are that cows may not have perceived the interactions as positive or that a ceiling effect occurred due to otherwise optimal milking routines.

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