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Impact of a Cattle Brush on Feedlot Steer Behavior, Productivity and Stress Physiology

By R. Parka and K. Schubacha

The aim of the present study was to investigate the impact of environmental enrichment (EE), in the form of a cattle brush, on feedlot cattle behavior, productivity and stress physiology. Steers were blocked by weight and assigned to one of two treatments 1) Cattle brush secured to fence line (BRUSH; n = 3 pens; 25 animals) or 2) No enrichment (CON; n = 3 pens; 26 animals). Video recordings were decoded from 0800 to 1730 on d -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 relative to brush implementation. Headbutting, kicking, mounting, bar licking, tongue rolling, allogrooming (licking each other) and brush usage were scored through continuous observation. Scan samples at 10-minute intervals were utilized to score lying, drinking and eating.

Cattle housed in BRUSH pens performed fewer headbutts (P = 0.013) over time compared to CON cattle. For BRUSH cattle, frequency and duration of brush usage changed over time, peaking on d 0 (P < 0.01). Environmental enrichment treatment impacted mounting, bar licking, tongue rolling, allogrooming and activity levels (P < 0.05). Cattle housed in BRUSH pens engaged in fewer mounts, bar licking bouts, tongue rolling bouts and allogrooming bouts and performed all behaviors for a shorter duration of time compared to CON cattle.  Research day impacted mounting, bar licking, tongue rolling, allogrooming, activity and rumination (P < 0.05). Mounting frequency, bar licking frequency, bar licking duration, activity duration and rumination duration decreased over time while frequency and duration of tongue rolling and allogrooming increased over time. A smaller proportion of steers were observed lying on d 0 and d 4 (P = 0.001) and the proportion of steers feeding decreased over time (P = 0.04). Cattle assigned to BRUSH pens performed fewer stereotypic and aggressive behaviors and cattle did not habituate to the brush suggesting that a cattle brush could provide long-term mental and physical stimulation. Cattle provided enrichment had no difference in feedlot performance or carcass traits.

This study suggests that brushes as EE for cattle may enhance confined cattle environments without compromising productivity.

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