Scientists probe cow friendships
How cows make friends is to be investigated in a three-year study.
Scientists want to understand more about "social networking" within dairy herds.
The aim is to help farmers improve the health and welfare of their cows, thereby increasing milk yields.
For the first stage of the research, high-tech "proximity collars" have been fitted to cows on a farm in Cullompton, Devon.
The collars use radio signals to determine how close one cow is to another, allowing scientists to map the animals' social interactions.
Study leader Dr Darren Croft, from the University of Exeter's Animal Behaviour Research Group, said: "Emerging evidence on wild animal populations supports the idea that the group structure and relationships between the animals affect their health and wellbeing. Cows are social animals that form important group structures, and the addition or removal of animals from an established group can significantly alter its dynamics. We want to find out just how important these group structures are.
"Dairy farmers take a range of factors into account when deciding how to structure groups of cows. We hope that the results of our study may contribute towards a blueprint for herd management that will help farmers continue to improve the health and welfare of their cows."
Researcher Natasha Boyland, another member of the Exeter team, said: "We will look at the nature of the interactions to see just how relationships are formed and maintained within the herd. In combination with the proximity data findings and other information about the animals, such as their health status, we hope to gather evidence that can be translated into practical advice for farmers when it comes to herd management."
The study is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DairyCo, the levy-funded organisation that works on behalf of British dairy farmers.
Amanda Ball, head of communications at DairyCo, said: "This study could help dairy farmers understand more about their cows, improve their health and welfare and may even contribute towards helping to secure the future supply of milk to consumers. The dairy industry is worth £8 billion a year to the UK economy and it is important to support research that can help farmers continue to provide consumers with top quality dairy products whilst putting the health and welfare of their cows first."