Neave, H. W., Costa, J. H. C., Weary, D. M. 2020. Long-term consistency of personality traits of cattle. Royal Society Open Science 7(2), 7191849.
Personality is often defined as the behaviour of individual animals that is consistent across contexts and over time. Personality traits may become unstable during stages of ontogeny from infancy to adulthood, especially during major periods of development such as around the time of sexual maturation. The personality of domesticated farm animals has links with productivity, health and welfare, but to our knowledge, no studies have investigated the development and stability of personality traits across developmental life stages in a mammalian farm animal species. Here, we describe the consistency of personality traits across ontogeny in dairy cattle from neonate to first lactation as an adult. The personality traits ‘bold’ and ‘exploratory’, as measured by behavioural responses to novelty, were highly consistent during the earlier (before and after weaning from milk) and later (after puberty to first lactation) rearing periods, but were not consistent across these rearing periods when puberty occurred. These findings indicate that personality changes in cattle around sexual maturation are probably owing to major physiological changes that are accelerated under typical management conditions at this time. This work contributes to the understanding of the ontogeny of behaviour in farm animals, especially how and why individuals differ in their behaviour.