Cows can be pessimistic and it affects their ability to cope with stress: study

The study tested how calves that had previously been identified as fearful, sociable, pessimistic or optimistic reacted under stressful situations

Dairy cows can be optimistic or pessimistic from a young age and their inherent outlook can predict their ability to cope with stress, new research from the University of British Columbia says.

Benjamin Lecorps, a PhD student in the animal welfare program, said the study has implications for animal welfare and suggests some commonalities between the human and animal worlds.

“In humans, we know that personality traits can really affect how people cope with stress, cope with challenges or even (affect) their social lives and so on. We really wondered if it was applicable to animals as well,” Lecorps said.

The study, published last month in Scientific Reports, tested how calves that had previously been identified as fearful, sociable, pessimistic or optimistic reacted under stressful situations like being transported from one barn to another.

The stress tests came four months after their personality traits had been identified through testing when the animals were between 25 and 50 days old.

READ MORE: Dairy code raises expectations of cattle health and welfare

The more pessimistic calves were more vocal and had higher eye temperatures, which are signs of stress, he said.

Eye temperature increases when an animal feels threaten because the sympathetic nervous system is activated and increases blood flow to the eyes, Lecorps said.

While optimism has been studied as a major predictor of how well humans cope with stressors, with implications for their social lives and mental health, few studies have focused on pessimism and optimism in other species, he said.

Lecorps said personality traits have often been studied as an average across a species or herd, but it’s important to look at individuals when considering animal welfare because some calves will be more vulnerable to challenges than others.

The study could be used to help farmers determine which animals will be more resilient and to allow them to improve overall health on a dairy farm, he said.

“If we have animals that are more vulnerable to stress, it’s likely that they are going to be more likely to be sick later in life or to not cope at all with the challenging situations they are subjected to in routine dairy farming,” Lecorps said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stevenson reflects on her seven years as Chemainus Elementary School principal

Strong community and parent support for the school always evident during her tenure

Drivesmart column: Advisory bike lanes: what should you do?

Imagine a narrow road that has no markings at all used by drivers

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Bantam C3 Capitals clinch playoff banner for Cowichan with clutch run

The Capitals went into the playoffs seeded fourth in the A pool

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

Woman arrested near Nanaimo beach after alleged road rage incidents

37-year-old woman facing charges including assault, assaulting a police officer, impaired driving

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Most Read