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Give a Cow a Brush, and Watch It Scratch That Itch



Give a Cow a Brush, and Watch It Scratch That Itch

Cows, like dogs and people, like a good scratch. Outside, they’ll rub their bodies against fence posts or trees to remove parasites or just stay clean. Some do it so much, they can break radio transmission towers if you don’t fence it off.

But many dairy cows in the United States never go to pasture. And even when they do, cows may spend winters tied up in a barn. So if a cow has an itch to scratch — what’s a cow to do?

In a lot of places, nothing.

But in some places, there’s the mechanical brush.

This bristly, swiveling, motorized apparatus spins when a cow touches it, allowing the animal to reach places it couldn’t on its own. On average, cows will spend seven minutes a day rubbing their heads, necks and backs on these bulky body buffers. And some researchers think these mechanical brushes aren’t just some spa amenity for dairy cows — they’re important to the animal’s well-being.

“We have no idea how these cows think,” said Marina von Keyserlingk, who studies animal welfare at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “But what we do know is that she’s highly motivated to brush. And what happens if she can’t?”

Testing the animals’ willingness to work for access to fresh feed, mechanical brushes and empty space, Dr. von Keyserlingk and her team trained pregnant, healthy, indoor dairy cows to open a weighted gate. By looking at how much weight they were willing to push before giving up, the researchers got an idea of the relative importance of each resource to the cows.

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The researchers suspected the brush would come in second for hungry cows. But the cows worked just as hard for the brush as fresh food. Their results, published Wednesday in Biology Letters, suggest that a cow may need mechanical brushes for grooming indoors and that dairy farmers should consider having these in their barns.

The brushes may benefit farmers by keeping cows from destroying surfaces inside barns and pleasing consumers who increasingly want to know that the animals are healthy and, more important, happy.

For the cows, using mechanical brushes may ward off parasitic outbreaks, scratch itches and remove dead skin. But grooming also helps many species — perhaps including cows — cope with stress.

In the end, she said, “science can only tell us what the options are. It can’t tell us what we ought to do.”

Elias Alex Ifeanyichukwu is a realist, keen writer born in Nigeria, he is a graduate and an active member of JoelsBlog Team, Elias Alex has a great sense of humor, writes great contents and is ready to serve you with what's Latest in Nigeria!

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