Confined to shelters for long, cows end up suffering chronic stress levels, which lead to health issues, a scientific study has indicated.
Cows in these shelters face health and management issues such as old age, low quality feeding practices, less area/cow, improper flooring and cleanliness, says the study published in the journal Animals.
About 54 shelters across India, with 549 non-lactating cows of a median age of 11 years were investigated by researchers from the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB), Hyderabad; the Himachal Veterinary University; and Clive Philips from the University of Queensland, Australia.
Veterinary research is increasingly using hair cortisol levels as a marker for stress levels in animals. The method is painless for the animal and more reliable than the other available techniques for measuring long-term stress.
Cortisol, a lipid-based hormone, is known to be released under physiological stress conditions. Because of the hair sebum’s affinity for lipids, the circulating cortisol gets accumulated in the hair shaft over time, explain researchers G Umapathy and Vinod Kumar of CCMB and Arvind Sharma of Himachal Veterinary University.
They investigated the correlation between hair cortisol levels in these cows, with living conditions in the 54 shelters. The results showed high cortisol levels in the animals.
Checking for physiological stress levels in animals usually involves checking for hormones in blood, saliva, urine or faeces. Procuring these samples can be invasive, making them difficult for studying animals on field. Also they give data only from a single point of time, the study said.
These findings open up possibilities for animal welfare-based reforms in designing animal shelters and managing them scientifically. These are important for a country like India, where abandoned and non-lactating cows are retired in shelters, without clear welfare policies, says the study.
Given the huge population of animals in the country, the sensitivity attached to and the need for improving the overall living conditions of animals in general, and cows in particular, the study offers useful pointers.