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Author(s): Jago J;Krohn C;Matthews LR;
Publication Date: January 1, 1999
Reference: , vol. 62: pp. 137-151.


The way in which an animal responds to humans and handling has important welfare and production consequences for both the animals and the stockperson. The aim of this study was to determine the relative importance of physical contact (gentle handling) and the provision of food on the development of the positive associations between young cattle and humans. A total of 40 Danish Friesian calves were used. From day 3 to 17 of age the calves were either: fed by humans and handled (stroke); fed by humans but not handled; fed without visual contact with humans and handled; or fed without visual contact with humans and not handled. Observations during the handing and feeding treatments revealed that calves fed with a human present performed more bunting behaviour but less play behaviour than those handled but not fed. The approach behaviour of each calf to an unknown person was assessed at day 3, 17, 32, and 62 in both their home pen and in an arena. In the home pen, handling had no effect on latency to interact with the person, but at days 17, 32, and 62 calves fed by humans were quicker to interact with the person than those fed without a human present. When tested in the arena, no consistent significant treatment effects were found at any age in latencies to approach or interact with the person. In a third test, the approach behaviour towards a person when social companions were present was assessed. With the human present only, time spent within 1 m of the person did not differ with age or treatment. But when two other calves were present, latency to approach the person increased and the time spent near the person decreased with age. It is concluded that feeding has a greater influence on the responses of young calves towards humans than handling. However, this appears to be limited to the location in which the feeding took place. Despite receiving no additional handling, calves hat were fed without a human present readily approached and interacted with an unknown person and spent a large proportion of time near the person in the arena tests, suggesting that handling in the first 2 days after birth may be very important in the development of the subsequent interactions between humans and cattle.

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