Comparison of the welfare of beef cattle in housed and grazing systems - hormones, health, and behaviour

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Cooke, A., Mullan, S., Morten, C., Hockenhull, J., Le-Grice, P., Le Cocq, K., Lee, M. R. F., Cardenas, L. M. and Rivero, M. J. 2023. Comparison of the welfare of beef cattle in housed and grazing systems - hormones, health, and behaviour. Journal of Agricultural Science. 161 (3), pp. 450-463. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021859623000357

AuthorsCooke, A., Mullan, S., Morten, C., Hockenhull, J., Le-Grice, P., Le Cocq, K., Lee, M. R. F., Cardenas, L. M. and Rivero, M. J.
Abstract

Animal welfare encompasses all aspects of an animal’s life and the interactions between animals. Consequently, welfare must be measured across a variety of factors that consider aspects such as physical health, behaviour, and mental state. Decisions regarding housed and grazing are central to farm management and in this study, two beef cattle systems and their herds were directly compared from weaning to slaughter across numerous indicators. One herd (“HH”) were continuously housed, the other (“HG”) were housed only during winter. Physical inspections of animals were conducted to assess body condition, cleanliness, diarrhoea, hairlessness, nasal discharge, and ocular discharge. Hair and nasal mucus samples were taken for quantification of cortisol and serotonin. Qualitative behaviour assessment (QBA) were also conducted and performance monitored. Physical health indicators were similar between herds with the exception of nasal discharge which was more prevalent in the HH herd (p<0.001). During winter QBA results found differences between herds over PC1 (arousal) (p=0.032), but not PC2 (mood) (p=0.139). For Summer assessments, there was a strong difference across both PC1 (p<0.001) and PC2 (p=0.002), with the HG herd exhibiting more positive behaviour. A difference was found in hair cortisol levels, with the greatest concentrations observed in the HG herd (p=0.011), however such a pattern was not seen for nasal mucus cortisol, or for serotonin. Overall, providing summer grazing (HG) appeared to afford welfare benefits to the cattle as shown with more positive QBA assessments, but also slightly better health indicators, notwithstanding the higher levels of cortisol in that group.

KeywordsAnimal welfare; Agriculture; Farming; Livestock; Animal health
Year of Publication2023
JournalJournal of Agricultural Science
Journal citation161 (3), pp. 450-463
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021859623000357
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Funder project or codeS2N - Soil to Nutrition - Work package 2 (WP2) - Adaptive management systems for improved efficiency and nutritional quality
The North Wyke Farm Platform- National Capability [2017-22]
Publisher's version
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online29 Jun 2023
Publication process dates
Accepted23 Jun 2023

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