Individual variability in response to social stress in dairy heifers

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Source: MDPI and ACS Style

Nogues, E.; Lecorps, B.; Weary, D.M.; von Keyserlingk, M.A.G. Individual Variability in Response to Social Stress in Dairy Heifers.Animals 2020, 10, 1440.

Mixing unfamiliar animals (or regrouping) is a common practice on dairy farms. This disruption in the social organization typically results in increased agonistic interactions and changes in time feeding and resting. Our objective was to study if different individuals subjected to a similar regrouping event would display different levels of engagement in social interactions and avoidance of social contact, and if these differences were associated with other behavioral changes. A total of 30 heifers were regrouped. Agonistic behaviors initiated and received, and feeding, resting and standing time and synchronization were recorded. Agonistic interactions were most frequent in the first 6 h after regrouping, with most taking place in the alleyways. Some individuals showed higher levels of engagement in these interactions, and others seemed to avoid aggressive interactions, suggesting different strategies were used to cope with the social stress of regrouping. Heifers that showed a more engaged strategy spent more time feeding. Those that showed higher avoidance spent less time feeding, less time resting and were less synchronized with others in their feeding behavior. We conclude that dairy heifers display different responses to social stress, and that in the case of regrouping, a more engaged strategy is more successful.
Regrouping is associated with increased aggression, and disruption of time-budgets. Individuals vary in how well they cope with social stress. Our objective was to describe individual differences in agonistic behavior in dairy heifers after regrouping, and determine how time-budget and behavioral synchronization were affected by these coping strategies. A total of 30 heifers were individually regrouped at 5-months of age into stable groups of 12 unfamiliar animals. For 24 h, agonistic behaviors initiated and received by the regrouped heifer were continuously recorded, and standing, resting and feeding time and synchronization were sampled every 5 min. Scores of engagement in agonistic interactions and avoidance of interactions were calculated for each regrouped heifer. Linear mixed effects models were used to assess whether these two response types were related, and how variation in these responses related to activity and synchronization. Engaged heifers displayed lower avoidance and spent more time feeding. Avoidant heifers spent less time feeding and resting, and were less synchronized while feeding. We conclude that dairy heifers differ in social coping strategy when regrouped through different levels of engagement and avoidance, and that these differences affected their time-budget and behavioral synchronization. View Full-Text

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