A pilot trial on beef animals has concluded that cattle housed in the innovative Roundhouse livestock building, are “less fearful and pessimistic and so less chronically stressed” than stock housed in conventional buildings.
Roundhouse was designed because it was thought it would suit cattle from an environmental and welfare point of view.
The trial was carried out using the Roundhouse at Sewborwens farm on the Newton Rigg campus in Penrith, by Dr Jim Clapp from Newcastle University, and supports the observation of the farmers who use a Roundhouse.
Geoff Simpson, of manufacturer Roundhouse Building Solutions Ltd, initially believed that a round shaped building would be less stressful for cattle because they have herding instincts and would see their fellow herd mates more in a round building than in a conventional one. It is also known that cattle like to be handled through a circular handling system because when they are put through it they think they will end up where they have come from, and thus find it reassuring. Until this pilot trial commenced, however, there was only the evidence of higher growth rates to indicate the building was less stressful to the animals, plus anecdotal comments from farmers.
Dr Clapp’s study aimed to identify “welfare indicators” by assessing non-invasive stress monitors, which would form a platform for further trials to determine the degree to which Roundhouse housed animals were stressed compared to conventionally housed ones. The stress monitors studied include:
- Saliva tests (saliva contains the stress hormone cortisol, also testosterone and progesterone which relate to aggression);
- Heart rate monitoring;
- The incidence of “disease”, such as the number of coughs over a ten minute interval;
- The incidences of social interactions, such as the number of aggressive or passive acts the cattle show towards each other during a set period of time;
- A ‘novel object approach test’ (in the case of the trial a beach ball), where the time it took for five animals to approach within one metre of it was analysed. The more fearful and so stressed the animals are, the longer it takes them to approach the object.
The trial showed that saliva could be used to determine stress levels, so long as certain proviso’s linked to the age of the animals - such as sexual maturity - were taken into account. Heart rates were also a good indicator of stress.
It also concluded that bulls from conventional houses (the control animals) had “significantly” higher heart rates than the Roundhouse bulls when put through a crush, and were also slower to approach the beach ball, suggesting “that the control bulls were more fearful and pessimistic and so chronically stressed”. However the limited number of observations means that more trials and data sets are now required to enable more robust conclusions to be drawn, says Mr Simpson. Dr Clapp and Roundhouse Building Solutions are now hoping to move the trial forward on a further six Roundhouses, and are considering using more sophisticated equipment such as wireless heart monitors that are used to measure fitness and stress in race horses.
“We designed the Roundhouse because we thought it would suit cattle from an environmental, and welfare point of view which would result in less stress and thus faster growth rates,” says Geoff Simpson.
“The farmers who use them have witnessed extremely good growth rates among growing and finishing cattle, which would indicate the building does work as we intended. This trial was designed to determine how we could shed further light on how the cattle feel in the building to enable us to improve performance even more. We are delighted in the results so far, and look forward to taking the trials forward.”
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