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Socio-Spatial Relationships in Dairy Cows

Gygax, Lorenz, Neisen, Gesa, Wechsler, Beat
Ethology 2010 v.116 no.1 pp. 10-23
dairy cows, dairy herds, herd size, social networks
Farm animals may serve as models for evaluating social networks in a controlled environment. We used an automated system to track, at fine temporal and spatial resolution (once per minute, ±50 cm) every individual in six herds of dairy cows (Bos taurus). We then analysed the data using social network analyses. Relationships were based on non-random attachment and avoidance relationships in respect to synchronous use and distances observed in three different functional areas (activity, feeding and lying). We found that neither synchrony nor distance between cows was strongly predictable among the three functional areas. The emerging social networks were tightly knit for attachment relationships and less dense for avoidance relationships. These networks loosened up from the feeding and lying area to the activity area, and were less dense for relationships based on synchronicity than on median distance with respect to node degree, relative size of the largest cluster, density and diameter of the network. In addition, synchronicity was higher in dyads of dairy cows that had grown up together and shared their last dry period. This last effect disappeared with increasing herd size. Dairy herds can be characterized by one strongly clustered network including most of the herd members with many non-random attachment and avoidance relationships. Closely synchronous dyads were composed of cows with more intense previous contact. The automatic tracking of a large number of individuals proved promising in acquiring the data necessary for tackling social network analyses.