Research: Cows in isolation – does enrichment reduce stress?

06-11-2020 | |
Photo: Henk Riswick
Photo: Henk Riswick

Can access to an automated grooming brush and/or a mirror reduce stress of dairy cows kept in social isolation? Researchers recently looked in to this.

The aim of this study, carried out by Mandel et al., was to examine whether enriching the environment of the isolation pen using both tactile (i.e. an automated grooming brush) and visual (i.e. a mirror) stimulation could alleviate stress induced in socially isolated dairy cows.

Photo: Henk Riswick

Photo: Henk Riswick

The study

To study this, 18 cows (9 lactating and 9 dry cows) were subjected to 4 isolation conditions of 30 min each: isolation in the presence of a mirror; in the presence of an automated grooming brush; in the presence of both a mirror and an automated grooming brush; and in a non-enriched environment (without brush and mirror) that served as a control condition. During the trial, physiological (heart rate and heart rate variability) and behavioural indicators of stress (locomotion, vocalisations, attempts to escape the isolation pen and ear position of the cows) were measured during 3 phases throughout the isolation period (0–5 min, 10–15 min, 20–25 min).


The researchers found that there was no indication of immediate stress reduction through brush/mirror usage. The presence of an automated grooming brush, a mirror or both an automated grooming brush and mirror in the isolation pen was not associated with reduced indicators of stress when compared to the non-enriched environment.

The researchers highlighted that there is a need to further explore practices to reduce stress during social isolation.

Effects of postpartum clinical disease in dairy cows
Here we look at the effects of postpartum clinical disease on milk production, reproduction, and culling.

Social isolation of cattle is a common occurrence for procedures such as artificial insemination, or on some occasions for claw trimming. When cows are in isolation, physiological and behavioural signs of stress are noticeable, such as elevated heart rate, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical activity and increased vocalisation rate.

Source and for full research article: ScienceDirect

Van Dijk
Zana Van Dijk Editor Dairy Global