Ann Reus, Feed Strategy staff reporter, covers offbeat animal feed-related news and other topics.
Study finds cattle udder-ly prefer in-person human voices to recorded ones
If you’ve been practicing social distancing and have quarantined yourself throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you might be missing in-person conversation and the touch of another human. Turns out, cows totally understand how you feel.
According to new research, cows are more relaxed by live human voices than recorded ones.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, and Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria, included 28 cattle and compared their responses to being petted while listening to a recording of a human’s voice vs. being petted while a live person spoke to them. The results showed live talking was the “best mood enhancer” for the cows.
“Each animal was tested three times per condition and each trial comprised three phases: pre-stimulus, stimulus (stroking and talking) and post-stimulus,” the researchers said. “In both conditions, similar phrases with positive content were spoken calmly, using long low-pitched vowels. All tests were video recorded and analyzed for behaviors associated with different affective states. Effects on the heifers’ cardiac parameters were assessed using analysis of heart rate variability.”
Results indicate a calming effect on the cattle when they listened to live voices.
“Heart rate variability was higher when cattle were spoken to directly, indicating they were enjoying themselves,” according to a press release. “After this treatment, heart rates were lower than after listening to a recorded voice, showing that the animals were more relaxed following the live chat.”
How do you tell if a cow is relaxed?
“When relaxed and enjoying the interaction, the animals will often stretch out their necks as they do when they groom each other,” said Annika Lange, research assistant at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, and a co-author of the study. “Additionally, it is thought that ear positions may indicate mood: hanging ears and low ear positions appear to be linked to relaxation.”
Lange said further research on additional herds could help us learn more about human-cattle relationships and improve animal welfare.
And perhaps this research indicates that it might do humans some good to have in-person interactions – at a safe distance, of course – to help our moods during difficult times.