Do Movement Patterns of GPS-Tracked Cattle on Extensive Rangelands Suggest Independence among Individuals?
Copyright © 2017, the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Open access, Creative Commons Attribution license 4.0.
In behavioral studies, cattle within the same pasture are not considered as independent experimental units because of the potential confounding effects of the herd’s social interactions. However, evaluating cattle behavior on extensive rangelands is logistically challenging for researchers, and treating individual animals as independent experimental units may be beneficial for answering specific research questions. The objective of this study was to evaluate the association patterns among global positioning system (GPS)-tracked cattle at six different study sites in the western United States. A Half-Weight Index (HWI) association value was calculated for each pair of GPS-tracked cows (i.e., dyad) to determine the proportion of time that cattle were within 75 m and 500 m of each other. Cattle at two study sites exhibited relatively low mean HWI-association values (i.e., less than 0.23 HWI); whereas, cattle at other study sites tended to have greater mean HWI associations (i.e., greater than 0.35 HWI). Distinguishing features between study sites with low and high association values were the management of cattle prior to the study, herd size, pasture size, and the number of watering points. However, at all ranches except one, at least 75% of all dyadic associations had HWI values of less than 0.5 at 500 m, indicating that most of the GPS-tracked cows were greater than 500 m from each other for over 50% of tracking period. While interactions among cattle in the same pasture are often inevitable, our data suggests that under some situations, movement patterns of a sub-set of individual GPS-tracked cows may have levels of independence that are sufficient for analysis as individual experimental units. Understanding the level of independence among GPS-tracked cattle may provide options for analysis of grazing behavior for individual cattle within the same pasture.