When your dairy cows moo, do you really know what they are saying?
A PhD student at the University of Sydney may be able to help out.
Alexandra Green, of University of Sydney’s Dairy Science Group, found a love for cattle after studying a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bio-Science, which is now seeing her study a PhD on cattle bio-acoustics or ‘cow-moo-nication’.
‘‘Being from Sydney, I had no interaction with farming,’’ Miss Green said.
‘‘Through my study I found a love for cattle and was interested in their behaviour.’’
Although only at the start of her research, Miss Green said she was already finding some positive results.
‘‘I’m still in the early stages of collecting preliminary data of being out in the field.
‘‘Comparing it with previous research has found they have distinct voices — some cows are chatty across all contexts, some don’t chat at all and others are chatting in some situations.
‘‘At this stage, I put this down to their personality,’’ she said.
‘‘I’ve recorded vocalisations in positive and negative situations and had half the herd partially (they can see the herd) separated and half the herd fully (unable to see herd) separated from the herd and I will do a cross over (swap them over).
‘‘Once I collect more data, I’ll compare the positive and negative situations to see vocalisation changes.
‘‘This could help technology to be created for farmers to help them understand the welfare, stress and even when to feed the animal.
‘‘On preliminary results the voices do seem to differ (in positive and negative circumstances).
‘‘This is positive as the different calls are related to different animals.
‘‘(Also) based on initial observations, prior to any physical contact, they bellow like crazy when coming into heat.’’
Miss Green said she had trained the Holstein Friesian heifers that she is using for her research like you would a dog.
‘‘Prior to giving them their ration, I have trained them up like a dog. I say ‘food’ and they bellow,’’ she said.
As part of her studies, Miss Green must present her findings to farmers and industry experts.
‘‘As part of the dairy science group, we have to present our work to farmers and the industry.
‘‘Consumers are wanting to know where their food is coming from.
‘‘There are higher herd sizes and less farming and farmers will be able to use this to better monitor cattle on farms by using acoustic analysis to understand behaviour.
‘‘Previous research to find out this information would see the farmer draw a blood sample or sample of saliva or faeces, which involves containing the animal into a crush.
‘‘If I can record vocalisations without moving them into the crush and drawing blood then it’s better for the animal.’’