Scientists probe the happiness of dairy cows
The link between human happiness and productivity was understood by economists long before "social networking" became a buzz phrase.
Now in the first ever study of its kind, a team of Westcountry academics aim to test the principle on cows and find out if mood affects milk output in dairy herds.
The subtle interaction of a ruminating herd may appear insignificant to the untrained eye but experts say the social relationships between the gentle creatures are complex.
To examine the group dynamic further, high-tech "proximity collars" have been fitted to cows on a farm in Cullompton.
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Through the use of radio signals, scientists will 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.
The study, which centres on an automatically milked herd at Orway Porch Farm, will report back in 2015.
It is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DairyCo, the organisation that works on behalf of British dairy farmers.
It is hoped the results may contribute towards a "blueprint for herd management" that will help farmers continue to improve the health and welfare of their cows."
Dairy farmer Andrew Branton, who milks 90 cattle at Locks Farm, Uplowman, near Tiverton, welcomed the research, which he said has been "lacking for years".
He added: "We do already know quite a bit about animal behaviour and welfare from observations about the stress involved when moving animals into different groups.
"I would hope that this research has some clear objectives and can target specific practical actions."
The preliminary study ends this year but the four-year-project needs further farms to take part.
Anyone interested should contact the university.