A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reveals that cows are more relaxed when a person speaks to them directly than when they hear a recorded voice through a speaker.
"Cattle like to be spoken softly while they are being cared for," says Annika Lange of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria. "In scientific contexts, a recording of a human voice speaking softly could be used to relax animals, because it can be difficult to repeat the same phrases in the same way during experiments."
The researchers used a recorded voice to make the conditions of each trial as similar as possible, 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 human speaking directly to them. "Our study suggests that speaking live is more relaxing for animals than a recording of a human voice," says Lange. "Interactions can be less positive when they become artificial through standardization."
Talking to them live is best for the cows
The team worked with a group of 28 head of cattle, comparing the benefits of stroking the animals while playing a recording of an experimenter's voice or stroking while talking directly to the animals. After analyzing the animals 'responses during the experiments, they found that talking live was the best way to improve the cows' mood.
Heart rate variability was higher when speaking directly to cattle, indicating that they were having fun. After the experiment, the heart rate was lower than after listening to a recorded voice, showing that the animals were more relaxed after the live conversation.
"When they relax and enjoy the interaction, animals often stretch their necks like they do when grooming each other," says Lange. "In addition, it is believed that the position of the ears can indicate the mood: hanging ears and in low positions seem to be related to relaxation."
The experiment included only one group and the playback of a recording. Lange notes that more research is needed to see if the results also hold true for different groups and situations, such as with cows that are most afraid of humans. This will aid further studies on improving the relationships between livestock and humans, an important aspect of animal welfare.