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ARS Home » Plains Area » El Reno, Oklahoma » Grazinglands Research Laboratory » Forage and Livestock Production Research » Research » Research Project #415137

Research Project: The Short and Long-Term Behavioral Effects of Livestock Training on Cattle Grazing in Continuous and Rotational Grazing Systems

Location: Forage and Livestock Production Research

Project Number: 3070-31630-007-06-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 1, 2018
End Date: Jun 30, 2023

Objective:
1) Identify the short and long-term effects of behavioral training on cattle response to humans and stress while being handled. 2) Identify behavior differences in grazing patterns and diet selection between animal grazing in continuous and rotational grazing systems.

Approach:
Angus:Brahman F1 cows (Approximately 50 head per treatment group, 25 head per replication within treatment) will be bred to Hereford bulls to produce terminal calves for finishing research. Cows will be weighed and condition scored, be evaluated for stress indicators, and have their temperament assessed three times per year (pre-calving, pre-breeding, and weaning). While on pasture throughout the year all cattle will be fitted with GPS collars (OSU), cattle within the “positive human-animal interactions” group will be subjected to: 1) On-foot human contact during daily herd-checks (approximately 15 minutes each day), 2) Will be hand-fed cake cubes in pasture bunks during cube feeding periods (vs cubes being fed by means of a truck-mounted automatic feeder), and 3) Twice a month during periods when cattle cubes aren’t being fed, cows will be fed a non-performance effecting reward feed (approximately 0.5 kg per head per day of cubes) on pasture and additionally be subjected to 15 minutes of on-foot interaction. The control treatment will be daily in-cab checks of herds without hand feeding or human interaction. During routine working times, all cattle (both treatment groups) will be gathered and moved to the handling facility in the same manner. When positive interaction treated cattle are worked, they will be fed 0.5 kg/h sweet feed in pen bunks both prior to, and after being worked in the handling facility (1.0 kg/head total). For all cows, stress and temperament measurements will include (ARS&OSU): 1) blood and fecal cortisol levels (Analysis OSU), pen agitation and chute agitation scores, and chute flight speed during routine working, 2) While on pasture, closest approach and flight stop distances will be assessed in both treatment groups on a bi- monthly basis utilizing commercially available laser distance measuring instruments (Petherick et al., 2009). Animal foraging behaviors will also be assessed using GPS collars and DNA barcoding of fecal samples. Behavioral differences in foraging patterns and diet selection between animals grazing continuously versus those grazing rotationally will assessed. Variables of interest include time spent foraging, area explored, time spent at water, preference for different plant communities, and diet selection.