A dairy project is seeking to understand how relationships between cows and their position in social groups affect the health and productivity of individuals.

Funded by Defra and DairyCo, the project is being carried out on nine dairy farms by a PhD student at the University of Exeter. It will also investigate how space allowance affects social group structure and dynamics.

“So far we have collected data on one farm over six months, and are now recruiting another eight farms to visit for one week each,” said Natasha Byland, who’s heading up the project at the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour.

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“We’re trying to understand how social relationships can be used to minimise cow stress and improve their welfare and productivity.”

The project uses proximity loggers on cows to measure their social associations with others.

A range of different measures related to cow performance, health and behaviour will also be recorded, including mobility, body condition, social behaviour and the prevalence of different health conditions.

“We are looking at group sizes of 100-200 cows, although the herd size can be larger,” said Miss Byland. The project includes cows at grass and housed, and will also examine how different stocking rates affect their social structures.

Farmers participating in the project will receive feedback on cow body condition and mobility and an overall research project report. Anyone interested in taking part should contact Natasha Boyland on nkb204@exeter.ac.uk or call 07588 795 530.