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Influences of exercise enrichment on feedlot cattle behaviour and the human-animal relationship
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1  School of Veterinary Science, Murdoch University


Finding practicable and cost-effective forms of enrichment for cattle in feedlot environments is challenging. Specifically, the enrichment must alleviate cattle from the boredom imposed by often barren and confined environments, while not negatively impact productivity. Providing enrichment could also assist in improving feedlot sustainability, addressing societal concern for cattle having a non-natural life. Exercising cattle within their home pens or in laneways, using low-stress stock handling, was tested for its effect on Bos taurus cattle behaviour, temperament and productivity. In late summer 2019, 287 mixed breed B. taurus cattle in a feedlot located approximately 250km north-east of Perth were split across three pens; two provided with different exercise treatments (pen 1 = exercised in-pen, 2 = exercised in the laneway) and a control pen. Cattle were exercised 2-3 times per week for approximately 20 minutes between days 40-80 of a 120-day feeding program. Individual body weights, crush temperament and crush exit speeds were collected on days 40 and 80, while behavioural testing (novel person test, ethograms prior to and post novel person test, and avoidance test) was conducted on days 41, 60 and 79 in home pens. While body weight was found to significantly increase for all pens combined over the study, weight gains did not significantly differ between pens (p < 0.05). Despite this, a smaller and higher range of weight gains were found for the exercised pens, while the control pen had two animals lose weight, with exact cause for weight loss (health or poor performance) unknown. This suggests that while enrichment did not negatively impact productivity, there is a possible positive influence, with more cattle having consistently higher weight gains; however, conducting study over an entire feeding program is needed. Behavioural testing found the cattle exercised in the laneway to be less responsive or recover quickly to human exposure, returning to lying posture and resting behaviour after the novel person test. Cattle exercised in-pen were found to be less reactive during avoidance tests and the novel person test, showing an improved human-animal relationship. Exercise was not found to influence temperament; however, all cattle studied had calm temperaments at the beginning of the study. This initial study shows that exercise impacted cattle behaviour and the human-animal relationship, which if implemented, could assist in feedlots becoming more socially sustainable.

Keywords: Ethogram; welfare; environmental enrichment; intensive housing