Qualitative behavioural assessment and quantitative physiological measurement of cattle naive and habituated to road transport

CA Stockman, T Collins, AL Barnes, D Miller, SL Wickham, DT Beatty, D Blache, F Wemelsfelder

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The present study examined whether observers could distinguish between cattle that are naïve to road transport and the same cattle after becoming more habituated to transport. The behavioural expression of cattle was assessed through the method of qualitative behavioural assessment (QBA), and these assessments were correlated with various physiological parameters. Fourteen Angus steers were assessed during their first road trip and then again on their ninth trip, 15 days later. Blood samples were collected immediately before and after transport, and heart rate and core body temperature were measured continuously throughout each trip. Video footage recorded during each trip was edited and clips showing each individual within the first 30 min of departure were randomly ordered and shown to observers for QBA. There was significant (P < 0.001) consensus among 40 observers in their assessment of behavioural expression of the cattle. Transport-naïve cattle were described as more ‘agitated’, while transport-habituated were described as more ‘calm’. Core body temperature (P < 0.01), plasma glucose (P < 0.05) and the neutrophil : lymphocyte ratio (P < 0.01) were higher for the first trip than for the habituated trip (P < 0.01). QBA were significantly correlated with core body temperature (P < 0.01), heart rate (P < 0.01), plasma glucose (P < 0.05) and the neutrophil : lymphocyte ratio (P < 0.01). QBA appears to be a valid and integrative method of assessing cattle welfare under the conditions tested within the present study. There was significant consensus in the ability of human observers to interpret behavioural expression of cattle during this experiment. In addition, observers could identify differences in behavioural expression between cattle that were naïve versus habituated to transport, and these differences were supported by physiological measurements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240 - 249
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number3
Publication statusFirst published - 7 Mar 2011


Bibliographical note



  • Free choice profiling
  • Physiology
  • Stress
  • Welfare

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