Foris, B., Zebunke, M., Langbein, J. et al. 2018. Evaluating the temporal and situational consistency of personality traits in adult dairy cattle. PLoS ONE 13(10), e0204619.

Recent research suggests that personality, defined as consistent individual behavioral variation, in farm animals could be an important factor when considering their health, welfare, and productivity. However, behavioral tests are often performed individually and they might not reflect the behavioral differences manifested in every-day social environments. Furthermore, the contextual and longer-term temporal stability of personality traits have rarely been investigated in adult dairy cattle. In this study, we tested three groups of lactating Holstein cows (40 cows) using an individual arena test and a novel object test in groups to measure the contextual stability of behavior. Among the recorded individual test parameters, we used seven in the final analysis, which were determined by a systematic parameter reduction procedure. We found positive correlations between novel object contact duration in the group test and individual test parameters object contact duration (Rs = 0.361, P = 0.026) and movement duration (Rs = 0.336, P = 0.039). Both tests were repeated 6 months later to investigate their temporal stability whereby four individual test parameters were repeatable. There was no consistency in the group test results for 25 cows tested twice, possibly due to group composition changes. Furthermore, based on the seven individual test parameters, two personality traits (activity/exploration and boldness) were identified by principal component analysis. We found a positive association between the first and second tests for activity/exploration (Rs = 0.334, P = 0.058) and for boldness (Rs = 0.491, P = 0.004). Our results support the multidimensional nature of personality in adult dairy cattle and they indicate a link between behavior in individual and within-group situations. The lack of stability according to the group test results implies that group companions might have a stronger influence on individual behavior than expected. We suggest repeating the within-group behavioral measurements to study the relationship between the social environment and the manifestation of personality traits in every-day situations.

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