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

Buccaneers pillage Calgary Wolfpack 38-13 in AFL semifinal

Bucs’ looking to take down Monarchs for the AFL Championship

History lives during Fort Normandeau Days

Annual celebration of culture and history runs Aug. 25th and 26th

Central Alberta Yogathon raising awareness for mental health

Funds raised go towards the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre

Military Vehicle Display and Swap Meet will bring over 40 military vehicle displays

People from across Alberta will head to Red Deer for 2nd annual event

Fred Eaglesmith and Tif Ginn head to the Elks Lodge Sept. 14th

Talented duo first in Central Music Festival’s new season

Canadians fear for relatives trapped amid flooding in Indian state of Kerala

More than 800,000people have been displaced by floods and landslides

Fast food chains look to capitalize on vegetarian, vegan trend with new items

Seven per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians and 2.3 per cent identify as vegans

‘Hard on water:’ Smoke not the only long-range effect of wildfires

The project began more than 10 years ago after southern Alberta’s 2003 Lost Creek fire

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to march in Montreal’s Pride parade

Trudeau will end the day in his home riding of Papineau

Ride to Reynolds Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin

Smoky but awesome event celebrates everything ‘motorcycles;’ open Sat. Aug. 18 to 4 p.m.

Canadians believe in immigration but concerned about asylum seekers: study

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada paid for study to understand Canadian attitudes

These are the highest-paid actresses of 2018

In its list released this week Forbes said all 10 earned a total of $186 million before tax

Ponoka’s Ronnie Racing wins Hot August Night

About 15,000 people filled the Castrol Raceway stands at the motorsports complex

Most Read