Human-cattle interactions and attitudes within dairy farming in Sweden and The Netherlands
Abstract: Human-animal interaction is suggested to be a main feature within livestock production. The quality of handling, for instance, appears to be greatly depending on the attitudes and behaviour of the stock people. Various studies have been conducted on relationships between human and animals, but few have looked upon differences in human-animal interaction and attitudes between countries. Two countries often discussed in livestock production are The Netherlands and Sweden. It would be of interest to compare these two countries to find out whether (assumed) differences are reflected in the attitudes between animal handlers. The first aim of this study was therefore to determine whether there are differences in the attitude between dairy farmers and dairy stock people in Sweden compared to dairy farmers and dairy stock people in The Netherlands. The second aim was to observe if there are signs of differences in the human-cattle interaction, within a sample of Swedish and Dutch dairy farms. Data on attitudes towards dairy cattle and the work with dairy cattle was obtained by means of a questionnaire based upon ‘Welfare Quality’ material. Questionnaire data were categorized within four validated sub-scales ‘patience during moving’, ‘patience during milking’, ‘importance of contact’ and ‘punish during milking’. Only data from respondents having completed all questions in either questionnaire were used in statistical analysis, i.e. 38 and 61 for Sweden and The Netherlands respectively. Median score and quartiles were calculated for each of the four sub-scales. Data on actual behaviour was obtained by behavioural observations performed on in total six dairy farms. Farms were equally distributed between the two countries and observations were made on three morning and three afternoon milkings per farm. Observed behaviours of humans and animals were categorized by type, nature of human-cattle interaction, i.e. positive/neutral/negative and visual/tactile/vocal. Some of the behaviours observed were excluded from statistical analysis due to too few recordings; remaining behaviours of handlers were statistically analyzed. The statistical model tested for the effects country, milking time and interaction between country and milking time. Results of questionnaires showed significant difference between the two countries solely for sub-scale ‘importance of contact’, median score for Sweden was 5.98 and 5.25 for The Netherlands (p<0.001). The number of human-cattle interactions appeared higher on Swedish farms, both during milking and in total, (554 during moving; 1591 during milking) compared to Dutch farms (626 during moving; 310 during milking). Interactions of both positive (tendency, p<0.1) and negative (significant, p<0.01) nature occurred to a greater extent on Swedish farms during moving. In general for both countries, negative interactions seemed to occur to a lower level than positive interactions, e.g. on Swedish farms during moving were 20.9% in morning and 19.3% in evening, of the interactions of negative nature, whereas 29.8% in morning and 34.7% in evening were of positive nature. Interactions of a neutral character occurred more during moving on Dutch (64.6% in morning; 77.85% in evening) than on Swedish farms (41.3% in morning; 39.2% in evening) (p <0.0001). Time of day was significant (p<0.01) as well as interaction between country and time of day for milking (p<0.001). Swedish cows in general appeared to show less fear to humans and accepting touch to greater extent (32%) than cows observed in The Netherlands (7%). Concluding, the results support the assumption that there are differences in attitude and handling of cattle between Sweden and The Netherlands with regard to the importance of contact. Swedish dairy farmers and stock people seem to find this more important than dairy farmers and stock people in The Netherlands. Neutral interactions are the most prominent occurring type of human-cattle interactions in The Netherlands, whereas interactions on Swedish farms more often tend to be either positive or negative. Taken together, results indicate that the human-animal relationship is more positive in Sweden.
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