Cattle are more relaxed by a face-to-face encounter than listening to a recorded voice through a loudspeaker.
That is according to a new study conducted by a veterinary medicine university in Austria, published in Frontiers in Psychology.
‘Live’ talking can be used to improve relationships between cattle and humans, therefore, benefiting animal welfare, according to the team of Austrian researchers.
Stroking and gentle talking
“Cattle like stroking in combination with gentle talking,” explained Annika Lange of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.
“In scientific contexts, a recording of a human voice speaking gently could be used to relax the animals, because it can be difficult to repeat the same phrases in the same way during experiments.”
Using a recorded voice means conditions are as similar as possible in each trial, following a concept known as ‘standardization — an important principle of scientific experimentation.
Scientists wanted to find out if cattle respond differently to the sound of recorded voices compared to a human talking directly to them.
The team worked with a herd of 28 cattle, comparing the benefits of either stroking the animals while playing a recording of an experimenter’s voice, or stroking while speaking to animals directly.
Live talking ‘more relaxing’
“Our study suggests that live talking is more relaxing for our animals than a recording of a human voice.”
“Interactions may be less positive when they become artificial through standardization.”
After monitoring the animals’ responses during the experiments, they found live talking was the best mood enhancer for the bovine species.
Heart rate variability was higher when cattle were spoken to directly, indicating they were enjoying themselves; the research paper states.
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.
Ear positions may indicate mood
When relaxed and enjoying the interaction, the animals will often stretch out their necks as they do when they groom each other,” says Lange.
“Additionally, it is thought that ear positions may indicate mood: hanging ears and low ear positions appear to be linked to relaxation.”
The experiment included only one herd and one playback recording.
Lange has called for further research to see if results are also valid for different herds and situations, such as with cows that are more fearful of humans.
This will help in further studies on the improvement of cattle-human relationships, an important aspect of animal welfare.