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

How sweet it is: Sugar Shack is back for ninth year

On Jan. 23 the popular Francophone festival in Prince Rupert kicks off with a social

City of Prince Rupert to explore funding for Kwinitsa airport ferry

New roll-on, roll-off berth would be called “Rupert’s Landing”

RCMP asks again for public’s assistance to find Binh Tran

Tran was last seen around the 1600 block of Park Avenue on Dec. 11

Social media strains over Prince Rupert’s boil water notice

Resident forms Community for Clean Water, and Jennifer Rice responds to acting mayor’s comments

Bad weather delays next Prince Rupert/Haida Gwaii ferry

Stormy weather will delay the next ferry sailing from Prince Rupert to… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: Inspirational gym outfits

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon

For two decades, significantly more of the whales have died in even-numbered years than in odd years

B.C. dangerous offender in court for violating no-contact order, sends letter to victim

Wayne Belleville was shocked to see a letter addressed to him from his shooter, Ronald Teneycke

Judge denies requests from Calgary couple charged in son’s death

David and Collet Stephan wanted $4 million to pay for past and future legal bills

Explosion sends B.C. firefighter to hospital

Kelowna fire crews responded to a blaze at Pope’sGallery of BC Art & Photography on Friday

Ex-Mountie investigating ‘Surrey six’ murders pleads guilty to obstruction

Derek Brassington entered his plea in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday

Man blames his loud car radio, sirens for crash with B.C. ambulance

Tribunal rejects bid to recoup ICBC costs after crash deemed 100-per-cent his fault

RECALL: Salmon Village maple salmon nuggets

Customers warned not to eat product due to possible Listeria contamination

More than 100,000 toxic toys named in Canada-wide recall

Plastic doll contains levels of phthalates over allowable limit and may pose chemical hazard

Most Read