A cow uses a scratching brush in this undated handout photo. (Benjamin Lecorps, UBC Animal Welfare Program)

A good scratch is just as worthy as good food for cows: study

UBC researchers find dairy cows want scratching brush just as much as fresh feed

Everyone knows the satisfaction of having an itch scratched, and researchers at the University of British Columbia say cows appear to feel the same way.

A study from the animal welfare program at the school found dairy cows want to use a scratching brush just as much as they want to access fresh feed.

The program’s Prof. Marina von Keyserlingk, one of six co-authors of the report, said in nature, cows are outside and use trees and other abrasive surfaces to scratch themselves. But when they’re kept in a barn, scratching is almost impossible.

A scratching brush looks similar to a small bristled roller in a car wash. When the animal steps into or under the brush, it automatically begins rolling.

While researchers found that the cows liked using the brush for an average of seven minutes a day, they weren’t sure how important it was to get that scratch.

The researchers used a preference test for the cows and it showed they were willing to push through a weighted barrier to gain access to the brush just as much as they were willing to push through for fresh feed, von Keyserlingk said.

“You know what it’s like to have an itch in those hard-to-get places,” she said. “So this allows them to really groom those hard-to-get places.”

READ MORE: Festival-goer releases cows, dives into manure pit on Agassiz farm

Von Keyserlingk said they found the brush appeared to help the cattle reduce stress.

“For me, what I also think about is if she’s super itchy and she can’t alleviate that itch, it could be that she could be really frustrated,” she said. “We don’t know what a frustrated cow necessarily looks like, because we haven’t really looked in this context, but it could actually improve her emotional state.”

Published in the journal Biology Letters on Wednesday, the study says in some countries, including Denmark, providing cows with access to resources that promote coat care is mandatory.

“Cattle with access to mechanical brushes are clean and spend about fivefold more time grooming compared with when brushes are not available, suggesting that these brushes are important to the cow,” the study says.

“I think brushes should be part of standard management practice, standard housing systems,” von Keyserlingk said.

She said they aren’t sure why the cows like to groom themselves. It could be to get rid of dirt or, just like most mammals, they get itchy once in a while.

In the past, science has tended to focus on animal welfare by looking at all animals, but von Keyserlingk said that this study looks deeper.

“We know that not all animals are identical and so I’m really interested in this individual variation. Because it’s the individual animal that has the ability to suffer. So looking at these types of things, we can get a better insight into individual differences.”

She couldn’t say that if a farmer added the brushes to their barn, they might have an increase in milk production, but the cattle could be more comfortable.

“I think that there’s a growing body of evidence now that having these brushes is good for the cows.”

Terri Theodore , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Lacombe athletes compete at largest North American cheer event

25,000 athletes were in Dallas in late February

Blackfalds advises residents to watch for spring thaw conditions

Public Works crews are attending to those services affected

REVIEW: Lacombe production of Halfway There a heartfelt hit

Cow Patti Theatre brings Canadian classic to the stage

PHOTO: U12 Edge Ringette wins Provincials in Calgary

Lacombe defeated Hinton in the final to take home the title

WATCH: ‘Napalm Girl’ discusses journey from hatred to forgiveness in Lacombe

Burman University’s Herr Lecture Series welcomed Kim Phuc Phan Thi to Lacombe

Facebook to overhaul ad targeting to prevent discrimination

The company is also paying about $5 million to cover plaintiffs’ legal fees and other costs

2019 BUDGET: As deficit grows, feds spend on job retraining, home incentives

Stronger economy last year delivered unexpected revenue bump of an extra $27.8 billion over six years

Newfoundland man caught after posting photo of himself drinking and driving

The 19-year-old took a photo of himself holding a beer bottle and cigarette while at the wheel

Here are five political leaders campaigning in Alberta’s spring election

Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt

UPDATE Leduc RCMP say sexual assault claim was false

UPDATE Leduc RCMP say investigation revealed sexual assault never took place

Fought to unite Alberta conservatives: Former MP Kenney ready to run for premier

Kenney, 50, was born in Oakville, Ont., raised in Saskatchewan, and spent his adult years in Alberta

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley wants chance to ‘finish that job’

Notley, 54, is the daughter of the late Grant Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 to 1984

PHOTOS: Massive fire at Wetaskiwin’s Rigger’s Hotel

Multiple fire departments involved, building badly damaged

Most Read