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

VIDEO: Call goes out for B.C. wildfire relief supplies

Chilliwack volunteers hope to load a 53-foot trailer with practical donations before heading into the firezone

UFV baseball coach returns to pro ranks

Jordan Lennerton, who also coaches at ‘The Yard’ in Chilliwack, played 1 game for the Quebec Capitales

Ride to Conquer Cancer re-routed away from Mt. Hicks wildfire

Thousands will ride to Chilliwack, not Hope, Sunday, and may not ride at all if air quality remains poor

Camp Ignite aims to inspire future first responders

Four-day camp offers young women a chance to experience the challenges of being a first responder

General aviation traffic down to a trickle at Chilliwack Airport

Minimum visibility guidelines can’t be met when conditions are so smoky you can’t see the mountains

Social media, digital photography allow millennials to flock to birdwatching

More young people are flocking to birdwatching than ever, aided by social media, digital photography

Vehicle fire on the Coquihalla

Heavy congestion in north bound lanes

Prime minister greeted by B.C. premier as cabinet retreat begins

PM Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan meet in advance of federal cabinet meetings in Nanaimo

Indigenous Creation story to be performed as musical at Lytton River Festival

Savage Society and members of the Lytton First Nation to present The Council of Spider, Ant & Fly

Are your kids anxious about going back to school?

BC Children’s Hospital offers tips to help your children be mindful and reduce stress

New trial ordered for James Oler in B.C. child bride case

Meanwhile, appeal court dismisses Emily Blackmore’s appeal of guilty verdict

This trash heap in Vancouver could be yours for $3.9 million

Sitting atop 6,000 square feet, the home was built in 1912, later destroyed by fire

Date rapist left victims with ‘long-lasting, emotional scars,’ judge says

Klifford Kenyon of Abbotsford sentenced to additional two years in prison

Fire in barn that housed therapy horses has been confirmed an arson

Abbotsford Police Department is now investigating and seeks witnesses

Most Read