Social isolation of unfamiliar cattle by groups of familiar cattle

Lesley A Smith*, Dave L Swain, Giles T Innocent, Michael R Hutchings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Domestic herbivores show a strong motivation to form associations with conspecifics and the social dynamics of any group is dependant on the individuals within the group. Thus, common farm management practices such mixing may cause social disruption. Social integration of new group members has previously been defined as a lack of aggressive interactions within the group. However, a lack of aggression among group members may not represent full integration into the social group. Here we observe the impact of disrupting groups of cattle via the introduction of an unfamiliar individual, on the social network patterns of six groups of cattle. Cattle contacts between all individuals in a group were recorded before and after the introduction of the unfamiliar individual. Pre-introduction, resident cattle showed preferential associations with specific individuals in the group. Post-introduction, resident cattle reduced the strength of their contacts (e.g., frequency) with each other relative to the pre-introduction phase. Unfamiliar individuals were socially isolated from the group throughout the trial. The observed social contact patterns suggest that new group members are socially isolated from established groups longer than previously thought, and common farm mixing practices may have negative welfare consequences on introduced individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104847
JournalBehavioural Processes
Early online date18 Feb 2023
Publication statusPrint publication - Apr 2023


  • Cattle
  • Animal welfare
  • Social network analysis
  • Contact patterns
  • Social perturbation
  • Group dynamics


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