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Cows prefer live communication over recordings

Cattle appear more relaxed by "live" talking rather than recorded voice through loudspeaker, which may have animal welfare implications.

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology demonstrates that cows are more relaxed when spoken to directly by a live person rather than listening to a recorded voice via a loudspeaker.

“Cattle like stroking in combination with gentle talking,” said Annika Lange of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria. “In scientific contexts, a recording of a human voice speaking gently could be used to relax the animals, because it can be difficult to repeat the same phrases in the same way during experiments.”

Using a recorded voice means conditions are as similar as possible in each trial, following a concept known as “standardization” — an important principle of scientific experimentation. However, the team of scientists wanted to find out if cows respond differently to the sound of recorded voices compared to a person talking directly to them.

“Our study suggests that live talking is more relaxing for our animals than a recording of a human voice,” Lange said. “Interactions may be less positive when they become artificial through standardization.”

The team worked with a herd of 28 cattle and compared the benefits of either stroking the animals while playing a recording of an experimenter’s voice or stroking while speaking to the animals directly. After monitoring the animals’ responses during the experiments, the researchers found that live talking was the best mood enhancer for the cattle.

Heart rate variability was higher when cattle were spoken to directly, indicating that they were enjoying themselves. After this treatment, the animals' heart rates were lower than after listening to a recorded voice, showing that the cattle were more relaxed following the live chat, the university said.

Since the experiment included only one herd and one playback recording, Lange suggested additional research to see if results are also valid for different herds and situations, such as with cows that are more fearful of people. This will help in further studies on the improvement of cattle/human relationships -- an important aspect of animal welfare.

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