Social components of health and welfare

Aims & Objectives
To investigate how a cow's social position within a group relates to its health, productivity and welfare, and to determine the consequences of social group disturbances on health, productivity and welfare.  A secondary objective is to determine whether these effects differ according to management group size.

Expected Outcomes

  • Improved understanding on:
  • How an individual cow's social position within its group can influence its health, productivity and welfare
  • How herd social structure relates to the welfare and productivity of the herd.
  • The effect of social disturbances (removing/replacing cows) on the social structure as well as the impact this has on health, productivity and welfare at the cow and herd level.
  • The outcomes from this research will be utilised to make predictions about the disruptive and beneficial effect of management practices on social network structure both at the level of the individual and the herd.
  • Management advice for farmers with the aim of maximising productivity and welfare.
  • Management recommendations for minimising social stress caused by the removal of individual cows or introducing new individuals to the herd.

The outcomes of this research will provide evidence to support the Cow Signals® advice currently being delivered by DairyCo Extension team.

Start Date            
January 2012   

Completion Date 
December 2015

Lead Contractor
Exeter University

AHDB Dairy

Scientific literature

Bolt, S.L., Boyland, N.K., Mlynski, D.T., James, R., Croft, D.P. 2017. Pair housing of dairy calves and age at pairing: Effects on weaning stress, health, production and social networks. PLoS ONE 12(1):

Boyland, N.K., Mlynski, D.T., James, R., Brent, L.J.N., Croft, D.P. 2016. The social network structure of dynamic group of dairy cows: From individual to group level patterns. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Vol 174, p 1-10.

Boyland, N.K., James, R., Mlynski, D.T., Madden, J.R., Croft, D.P. 2013. Spatial proximity loggers for recording animal social networks: consequences of inter-logger variation in performance. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology. DOI 10.1007/s00265-013-1622-6


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