Aigueperse, N., Vasseur, E. 2021. Providing an outdoor exercise area affects tie-stall cow reactivity and human-cow relations. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7, 597607.
Confinement and restriction of movement are a reality for most dairy cows. Providing outdoor access is one method to increase movement opportunities. However, leading cows to an outdoor exercise area increases their exposure to manipulations different from those of an indoor housing system. These situations have the potential to induce fear reactions, which can lead to injuries for the cow and danger or economic losses for the farmer. Our aim was to evaluate the development of the human-cow relationship and general reactivity of cows after a 12-week period of outdoor access provision in winter, summer and fall. A total of 16 cows in the winter, 16 in the summer, and 15 in the fall were enrolled in the study and either allocated to the treatment (Out) or stayed in the tiestall (NonOut). A human reactivity test and suddenness test were performed before and after the 12-week treatment period. In winter and to a lesser extent in fall, Out cows had a better human reaction score compared to NonOut cows, suggesting that cows with outdoor access during the winter associated human approaches with positive events. Conversely, no difference in the human reaction score was found between treatments during the summer. For summer and fall, Out cows did, however, show a decrease in their reaction score to the suddenness test compared to NonOut cows. The results of the human reactivity test in the summer suggested that cows with outdoor access did not associate the manipulation with a positive event. Interestingly, this result is not due to the cows being more frightened, since the suddenness test suggested that the Out cows were less fearful than NonOut cows. The way in which cows were led to the outdoor area could explain the differences in cow responses. Here, summer cows faced greater movement restrictions during trips to the outdoor area than in the winter, which may have been negatively perceived by the cows. We conclude that, besides the provision of outdoor access, the manner in which cows are handled during these events may have significant impacts on their reactions and could facilitate future handling.