Behavioural Problems in Dairy Animals and their Solutions

Modern dairy practices in India are generally characterized by inadequate housing, improper nutrition and poor quality of management with scant regards to the behavioral needs and the welfare of the animals. This not only affects their growth, production and reproduction performance but also leads to the emergence of various kinds of abnormal behaviors. These anomalous behaviors and stereotypes are not seen in animals reared under range or pasture management or when the domesticated animals are left in their natural environments.

The level of prevalence of these atypical behaviors in a herd of dairy animals can be taken as an index of quantity and quality of dairy farm management in terms of housing, breeding, feeding and healthcare but also satiation of the behavioral needs of animals. The development of abnormal behavior is related to various stressors in animal environment.

Under present day intensive dairy production systems the quantity and quality of animal’s environment are reduced, resulting in the increased probability of development of abnormal behaviors as modern production systems provide minimum facilities only for the nutrition, reproduction and rest while the facilities for other important behavioral needs such as exploration, investigation, socialization, maternal care-giving, offspring’s care-soliciting and play behavior are abysmally neglected.   

Any behavior that does not fall in to the normal behavior repertoire of a species is termed as abnormal, while a stereotypy is a relatively invariant sequence of movements which has no obvious purpose or benefits such as prepuce sucking, scrotum sucking, tongue playing, bar biting and eye rolling are the examples of stereotypic abnormal behavior in dairy animals. It has been reported that 64 per cent of dairy animals comprising indigenous cows, crossbred cows and buffaloes kept under loose housing system at an organized dairy farm were suffering from one or other anomalous behavior.

The prevalence of these behaviors can be safely presumed to be much higher under conventional housing and rearing systems existent in rural India where the animals are kept tied at one place through most of the day and night. The growing calves, high producing cows and buffaloes are particularly susceptible to inadequacies in their behavior needs. Therefore under intensive housing and management conditions farmers need to pay greater attention to an animal’s physical environment and modify some of the management practices in order to satisfy the major behavioral needs of their animals which will ultimately result in increased animal productivity and profit from dairy farming.

The major abnormal behaviors observed in dairy cattle and buffaloes and the preventive and management measures to be taken are discussed as under: