CZAAWE Resource Article

Graded leadership by dominant animals in a herd of female beef cattle on pasture
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Animal Behaviour
The role of dominant individuals in leading groups of animals is not yet well understood. We investigated whether dominant beef cows, Bos taurus, have more influence on herd movement on pasture than more subordinate cows. A herd of 15 Gasconne cows was observed for a 3-week period between dawn and dusk. The positions of all adult cows were recorded with GPS collars at 1 min intervals and the behaviour of each cow was recorded in 5 min scans. The dominance hierarchy was recorded by ad libitum sampling. Through cluster analysis of the recorded data, we distinguished three herd behaviour patterns: resting, foraging and travelling. Dominant cows were closer to the front of the herd during both travelling and foraging. During travelling, more dominant cows also had more direct trajectories and were more aligned both with their nearest neighbours and with the whole herd. During foraging, the trajectories of dominant cows were shorter than those of subordinate cows. The results indicate that foraging and short-distance travelling movements by female beef cattle are not led by any particular individual but rather are influenced by a graded type of leadership; that is, the more dominant a cow is, the stronger the influence it may have on the movements of the herd.