Destrez, A., Haslin, E., Boivin, X. 2018. What stockperson behavior during weighing reveals about the relationship between humans and suckling beef cattle: A preliminary study. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 209, 8-13.
The human-animal relationship is a key component of human and farm-animal welfare. Farm surveys, particularly for pig, dairy cattle and veal calf production, which include regular human contact, showed that animals may face aversive handling during daily work routines, which can significantly increase their fear of humans. Similar surveys of stockperson behavior towards suckling beef cattle, which are handled less often, are rare. The aim of this preliminary study was therefore to develop a tool for assessing stockperson behavior during the occasional but common weighing procedure on commercial beef farms and then to test its potential to indicate the general human-animal relationship on such farms. Two hundred and thirty interaction sequences of stockpeople handling calves on six farms were filmed during weight monitoring. During them, stockpeople’s vocal and tactile interactions and locomotion were recorded in detail. Additionally, an avoidance test with an unfamiliar human was performed with the farm’s heifers on pasture. Multiple correspondence analysis followed by ascendant hierarchical clustering (AHC) was performed on the sequences to identify groups of practices that stockpeople used during handling. Next, the relationship between the AHC groups according to the time spent weighing and the number of calf vocalizations was analyzed using one-way analyses of variance followed by pairwise comparisons (with Bonferroni correction). Three AHC groups of handling styles that including positive and negative features were identified: (1) mostly “negative” practices (67 sequences) such as hitting calves, twisting their tails or not talking to them; (2) “neutral” practices (62 sequences) such as talking to calves, moving quickly and pushing the calves and (3) mostly “positive” practices (83 sequences) such as touching the calves, not hitting or pushing them and not twisting their tails. The group using “positive” practices spent significantly less time weighing a calf than the two other groups (p < 0.01). In addition, the calves vocalized less with the group using “positive” practices than with that using “neutral” practices. Like for animal production systems that include daily routine handling, our study suggests relationships between stockperson practices during one-time handling events and animal reactions to humans on commercial beef farms. Observing stockpeople during less common handling events could identify poor human-animal relationships in suckling beef cattle production.