Safety in numbers: Social isolation increases behavioral responses of cattle during startle tests. Conference Paper uri icon


  • Abstract Social isolation confounds cattle fear tests. Fear tests often require individuals to be isolated from the herd, possibly eliciting other emotions (i.e. panic and grief) outside of fear. To test this, steer (n = 32) behavior during an individual startle test (IST) and a group startle test (GST) were video recorded. During IST, one steer was placed in a solid sided pen and, after 60 seconds, two umbrellas opened simultaneously. Behavior was video recorded for an additional four minutes. For GST, the same procedures were followed, except 4 familiar steers were in the pen simultaneously. Within each test, steers were evaluated in a random order. IST retesting (IST_2) occurred five weeks after the first IST (IST_1). The GST took place one week after IST_2 testing completed. Video recordings of IST_1, IST_2, and GST were decoded for frequency and duration of behavior (steps, standing bouts, time spent standing, eliminations). Relationships among behavior, test, and minute of test were analyzed using Generalized Linear Mixed Model (PROC MIXED). Minute and test affected number of steps (P < 0.0001) and time spent standing (P < 0.0001). During GST, steers performed fewer steps than in the IST_1 (P < 0.0001) and IST_2 (P = 0.0003). There were no differences in step count between IST_1 and IST_2. Steers spent more time standing during GST than IST_1 (P < 0.0001) and IST_2 (P = 0.004). No differences in time-spent standing were seen between IST_1 and IST_2. Number of standing bouts were impacted by test (P = 0.0008). Steers stood more during GST than in IST_1 (P = 0.0007) and IST_2 (PP = 0.03) with no differences observed between IST_1 and IST_2. The IST is repeatable, yet the strength of the behavioral response is reduced during GST. This is the first quantifiable representation of the impact of social isolation on the fear response in beef cattle.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Mathias, A., & Daigle, C. L.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Mathias, Amanda||Daigle, Courtney L

publication date

  • January 2019