Animal Cognition

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 685–702 | Cite as

The eyes have it: lateralized coping strategies in cattle herds responding to human approach

  • Andrew RobinsEmail author
  • Amira A. Goma
  • Lucie Ouine
  • Clive J. C. Phillips
Original Paper


We report a range of lateralized coping strategies adopted by large social groups of cattle in response to mild challenges posed by humans of varying degrees of familiarity. At either 14 or 18 pens at a commercial feedlot, with 90 to 200 cattle in each, we conducted a series of video recorded ‘pressure tests’. ‘Frontal’ pressure tests involved walking from a position perpendicular to the concrete feed bunk of a given pen, towards the geometric centre of the line of feeding cattle. ‘Bunk-side’ pressure tests involved experimenters walking closely past a pen of feeding cattle in one direction, before returning in the opposite direction shortly afterwards. Experimenters wore white dust masks to alter their facial features in the bunk-side pressure tests. In both frontal and bunk-side pressure tests, distance from the experimenter influenced cattle’s choice of binocular viewing, cessation of feeding, standing or stepping backwards to monitor the approach and leaving the feed bunk. The frequency of these coping strategies differed in a lateralized manner. The cattle were more likely to accept the close positioning of a generally familiar, unmasked human on their left, which is traditionally referred to as the “near” side. By contrast, when responding to the approach of an unfamiliar, masked human, cattle conformed to the general vertebrate model and were more likely to remove themselves from the potential threat viewed within the left and not right visual field. We argue that the traditional terms for livestock sidedness as “near” (left) and “off” (right) sides demonstrate a knowledge of behavioural lateralization in domestic livestock that has existed for over 300 years of stock handling.


Welfare Behaviour Coping Cattle Laterality Visual Stressors 



The authors thank the managerial staff of Freestone Feedlot, Warwick, Queensland, for their support and permission to conduct the observational research reported in this study. The constructive criticism from anonymous reviewers has also been invaluable to the production of this work.


The study was funded by a Rosalind Dixon Memorial Scholarship for Farm Animal Welfare Research from the Humane Society International (HSI) and University of Queensland Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics (CAWE).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest associated with the publication of this research.


The observational research complied with ethical standards of the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th edition (2013).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, School of Veterinary ScienceUniversity of QueenslandGattonAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Veterinary MedicineAlexandria UniversityAlexandriaEgypt
  3. 3.Bordeaux Sciences AgroGradignanFrance
  4. 4.Science de l’Animal-zootechnieRennesFrance

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